1115 Case #36: Molly Tran

(by Student #36 AMH 2010 1115)

I decided to pick a criminal because crime is interesting to me and I know I won’t get bored writing about something that interests me. I got a female criminal named Mollie Tran (turned out to be Trau) who was convicted of murder in the second degree in Fresno, California. She was born in Oklahoma, age 36, white, occupation was put as housewife, paroled 4 years after the murder.
I hope to find out what happened to get her put in jail and if it involves anything significant in history because all of this happened during the Great Depression. Also, she might not be fully white because her last name might be Trau and I’m wondering if race could have anything to do with her case.
I started my research by doing a quick Google search of "Molly Tran Fresno California" because the cursive in my case File report wasn't very clear. Nothing I was looking for came up for the search so I tried "Molly Trau Fresno California". This brought up many search results that looked like they could be what I'm looking for. This Google Search helped me figure out the name of the person and the case for this case File investigation. One of the search results was labeled Bakersfield Californian archives December 20th 1927 page 5 newspaper archive so I decided to click on the link and look through this newspaper archive to understand what this case was about. The newspaper picture file was hard to read but thankfully the text was put beneath the image. The section of the newspaper that talks about this case read "Clifford Burdg, 3/, veterinary, and Mrs. Mollie Trau, 36, are charged at Fresno with the slaying of Philip Trau, 42, special patrolman and onetime stage dancer, in a love triangle case. They are shown here with J. G. Moran, detective, who arrested them. Burdg says Trau shot himself during a spree. The newspaper article was written 3 months before Molly Trau was charged for second degree murder. The mention of Clifford Burds and a love triangle might be a clue as to why she was charged with murder in the second degree instead of the first. Looking up Clifford Burds might give me more information about what happened in this case. A love triangle involves three people so I might benefit from looking up her dead husband (and victim) Philip Trau.
Looking up Philip Trau helped me find a very lengthy investigation report on casemine.com titled People vs. Burdg. In the investigation, it talks about the night of the murder from the accounts of Mollie Trau, Clifford Burdg, Trau’s sister and her husband. To make a long story short, Mollie Trau and Clifford Burdg were exes and, for some reason, he was still very active in her life when she married the new guy Phillip Trau. Clifford would be over at their house frequently and vice versa. They were all drinking earlier that night and Mollie and Clifford were left alone because Phillip had to go to work. Then the only part of the story that can be proven is that Phillip came home later that night and got shot in the neck and died.
Mollie and Clifford had lied about how it happened at first and told detectives that Phillip shot himself. Then both of their stories changed, I guess because of the pressure, and their stories were basically them turning on each other. Clifford claimed that Mollie shot her husband while Mollie claimed that Clifford did. Both of their stories had serious discrepancies so putting them in this report might not even be useful because the detectives disproved a lot of what they had said by doing a search of the house. One interesting thing that Mollie had said during her confession was that Clifford and Phillip had gotten into a heated argument where Clifford said that he loved her and “would have her, by God, if he had to kill him.” Clifford was charged with 10 years in jail while Mollie had 5 to life because the jury decided neither of them were telling the whole truth, but all evidence led to both of them being involved in Phillip’s murder.
Looking Mollie and Clifford up on Ancestry showed me that they ended up in the same prison. I found Mollie in the census about 3 years after the murder and it revealed that she was married. My guess was that she and Clifford got married while in prison together, which was just a guess and I think it was wrong after finding the last piece of information about this case in another newspaper archive. Mollie was paroled after 5 years and ended up in the newspaper again for a suicide attempt. She tried to end her life by cutting her arm open with a razor. When asked the reason she said, “My daddy’s gone”. When asked “Who is your daddy?” by an officer she answered “Phillip Trau”. She was put into a psychopathic ward. I’m now sort of uncomfortable writing about this. The newspaper uses really messed up ways to describe her life like mentioning her “lonely house on 428 Inez street”. Is the newspaper even allowed to mention things like suicide attempts and her ending up in a psych ward? Is the newspaper allowed to do that with people today?
This was the last piece of information I found related to this case. I have no clue where Mollie Trau is after this newspaper article, probably because of her last name since I’m guessing it changed after she married Phillip. I tried her sister’s last name to see if I could find her and I tried Clifford’s last name but they didn’t pull anything else up. I found out that Clifford had died in 1948 but there was nothing about his death. There were some things left out of this report because I forgot to write them down like the fact that everyone’s birth date was “estimated” so I had to do the math to try to find these people on Ancestry. It did eventually work out and I found the correct people.
There was nothing really interesting about this case in terms of historical content. Love triangles with murders are things that still happen to this day. I think the only interesting things about the time that Mollie Trau lived in was the way they categorized people. The small things that add up like the way they wrote “housewife” as her occupation on the prison records and the way she wasn’t her own person because she still had Phillip’s last name. The last newspaper mentioning her “lonely house” just because she wasn’t married with children and the details of her suicide attempt just being thrown out there like that. The 1920’s and 30’s didn’t seem like a time where people took the time to understand others. It seems like there was a lot of judging others instead. People were put into categories based on the way they lived their life and that’s where they stayed.
Mollie Trau was involved in a murder, yes, but she was still a person and deserved a little more respect when she was going through a hard time. It wasn’t at all necessary to put her suicide attempt in the paper along with her address and being checked into a psych ward. Doing that to someone doesn’t help them, it harms them. It is gossip being thrown out there for people to “read all about it”. I’m actually glad that I didn’t find more because it seemed like an invasion of privacy to even read that newspaper article. I’m glad we live in a time that’s more understanding towards others and their privacy because we are all people and deserve to be respected as such.

Places I went to find this information:

1115 Case #35: Hope Phillips and Tomas Romero

(by Student #35 AMH 2010 1115)
            When we were given the opportunity to choose a criminal, slave, or census, I immediately chose criminal. For some odd reason, studying criminals is extremely interesting to me. There are so many questions to ask: why did they kill that person? Was is intentional? Was in random? What was their “breaking point” that led them to act out? Not only was I intrigued by this assignment for this reason, but also because I love history- especially the early 20th century. I initially chose a woman named Hope Phillips because I glanced at her file and it said that she was arrested for manslaughter at the age of twenty-one. I though this would be a fascinating case for numerous reasons but mainly because it occurred during the prohibition era when women began to get more “ballsy”.
            I began my research on ancestry.com because I figured that it would be a good, easy place to start as I never done research like this before. I thought I could make a family tree, find out more about her history, family, etc. Unfortunately, Hope Phillips is a very common name, so it was difficult to find such information. I then looked to newspapers.com to see if I could dig up some good dirt on her. It took some time to find information on her because, again, her name is so simple and common. I came across several news articles about the crime. The first article was released on February 22nd, 1928 in the Los Angeles Times and stated that the “accident” occurred on December 1st, 1927 late at night. Phillips was supposedly driving in a car with a man named John Schultz. The two were intoxicated and she ran over twenty-year-old Ethel Knudson. Before I continued reading, I tried to scrounge up more information on Schultz to see

what happened to him but only found that he was proven innocent and let go. The only other significant piece of information about John Schultz was the fact that it was actually his car that killed Knudson. I thought to myself that it was odd that Phillips was driving the car. Why would Schultz want her to drive his car? Especially since they were intoxicated? The article then discusses the trial and sentencing. After hearing her sentence of 1-10 years at the San Quentin Prison, she pleaded for probation. When she was denied, she lost it. In this article specifically, it states that she fainted. As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, once she woke, she was apparently in a “hysterical condition” and “cursed at the officers”. I wanted to look at other newspapers to see how they portrayed the story, and interestingly enough, they were slightly different. The next article I chose was also on February 22nd but was from The San Francisco Examiner. In it, it describes the trial like the first article, but claims that Phillips was “screaming and fighting desperately at the officers”. After reading that she flipped out from two sources it made me think that Hope Phillips had anger issues or some psychological problem. Another reason why I believe that she had an anger issue is because the autopsy of Knudson came back with thought-provoking news. According to the article, County Autopsy Surgeon Wagner testified that Knudson died from a concussion in the brain and other injuries, BUT apparently the concussion was “received in a violent impact with some object”. Initially, I though the “object” was the car that hit her, but then I started to wonder... was this all really an accident?  I started to think that maybe Phillips knew Knudson and had issues with her which led her to strike her with an object and then hit her with the car to make it looks accidental. It is very possible that this could’ve happened because it is already known that Phillips was under the influence, and we all

know what alcohol can do to someone who is angry (and we already know Phillips has a temper). After gathering this information, I attempted to find more, but there was nothing else. In my opinion, I think that Hope Phillips had conflict with Ethel Knudson because they were around the same age and the trauma from an unknown object makes me believe that Phillips hurt her prior to running her over. From these different sources, and by researching about her crime, I have realized that back in the 20s it must have been extremely difficult to determine who committed a crime because of the lack of technology. The tools and technology used during this time in America does not even compare to what we have today, so many people could get away with crime as it was hard to prove someone guilty.
            Since that was the end of information about Hope Phillips, I decided to research another criminal named Tomas Romero. My attention was grabbed when I read that he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Not only did I think that was an odd number, but I wanted to know what he had done to obtain this sentence. His file on ancestry.com answered my question quickly: murder. It also provided some general information about him, like the fact that he was “Spanish American” (whatever that is), twenty-five years old, Catholic, and born in New Mexico. Additionally, his parents were born in New Mexico as well, so I was somewhat disappointed because given their Hispanic names, I was hoping that they had immigrated to America- now that would’ve been a story. His general information couldn’t tell me his story, so to do that, I went back to newspapers.com and inserted his information. I stumbled upon an article from the Las Vegas Daily dated back to March 7th, 1934. Romero was received from San Miguel

county on June 1st, 1934 and sentenced on May 26th of that same year. However, at his trial he pleaded not guilty. This article also had a very in-depth description of what supposedly happened on the day of the murder. He killed a woman named Elicia Cordova whom I later learned was his “former sweetheart”. One night, Cordova was walking on the sidewalk with her friend who’s first name is unknown but last name is Padilla. The two women were walking home, but according to the report, when they were “within half a block of the home, the girls became frightened and looking around saw a man creeping up behind them from the darkness.” Then it goes on to explain that he jumped at Cordova and knocked her to the ground. After doing that, he picked her back up and continued to beat her. As she lay there helplessly with her friend standing in pure shock, Romero pulls out a pistol from his pocket and shoots her in the head. He then turns to Padilla and explains that if she says or does anything, he will shoot her too. After saying that, he “slinked off into the darkness”.
            Miss Padilla still stood there in shock until a man later identified as “Tony” helps her pick up the body and bring it back to the Cordova home. Cordova’s mother and brother were home when the two arrived, and I’m sure mortified at the sight, but her brother did the right thing and called the police. The police reach the home and first question Padilla since she was a firsthand witness to the tragedy. After hearing what she had to say, Sheriff Delgado and his deputies began their hunt to track down Romero. Hours go by with no luck, but then they stop at the home of Fidel Herrera and find something interesting. They find a .32 caliber accompanied by a blood-stained coat. Herrera reveals to the cops that Romero was there but

had already left. Following that, Sheriff Delgado goes to the Romero home and speaks with Pablo Romero, the father. Romero confirms that the gun and the coat are his sons, but that he did not know where he was. To make sure, Delgado searches the home and finds Romero in a back room, scrambling to pack to leave town that night.
            At his trial, Romero also claimed that he had never seen that gun before and that it wasn’t his. He then was taken to see the body of Elicia Cordova. When he looked at the body, he supposedly was “emotionless” and just stared at it claiming he “didn’t know her”. After saying that, he refused to answer any more questions. Similar to the Phillips case, I believe that Romero killed Elicia Cordova over a conflict the two were having. The murder was clearly intentional, and it was mentioned in the article that they had been in a “lovers quarrel”. Just as alcohol makes you do crazy things, so does love.
Before digging deeper into the crime committed by Tomas Romero, the surface information given to me only revealed that he was a white male who murdered someone and was given a 99-year sentence. After researching, I was able to figure out that the woman he murdered was his “lover” and that he most likely killed her because the two were arguing. It is really interesting to research these case files because every photo and name has a story waiting to be told. Though they were morbid, I am glad I was able to tell the stories of Hope Phillips and Tomas Romero. 

1115 Case #34: Mr. Albert Barnes Johnson

(by Student #34 AMH 2010 1115)

            For my casefile I chose to research Mr. Albert Barnes Johnson.  I went through a few files before I actually found one that sparked my interest.  The reason I chose this one is because he was a reverend and I felt like I could relate to him.  I’m not a pastor or minister, but I am a man of faith who loves the Lord, so I felt this casefile was a good one for me.  During this research, I hoped to find out what schools he attended, if he had ever been married or had children, where he was from, and what was the cause of his death.
            Finding information on my topic was not an easy task.  Initially, it was frustrating.  It seemed that the information was not coming to me as easily as I had hoped for it to.  I continued to do research and things began to come together for me.  My main source and only source of information came from ancestry.  Once on ancestry, I was able to find the information needed to start my research.  After creating a family tree, it was discovered that the health issues such as hypertension and obesity ran in his family.  I also discovered that he was an only child. Although he didn't have any siblings, he made friends in the community due to his friendly personality.  
            Mr. Albert Barnes Johnson was born on May 31,1852 in Saranac, Michigan.  Saranac is a village in Ionia county in the state of Michigan.  He grew up in Saranac and was homeschooled in the village. As a teenager he was very active in church. He sang in the choir and was a greeter at the church.  At the age of 18, he met Miss Arminta Culver.  The two began to talk and get to know each other.  Three years later, at the age of 21, on December 16, 1873; Albert and Arminta were married. 
            The newlyweds would move from Saranac to Calhoun, Michigan.  At the age of 22, Albert would begin preaching the word of God.  It was never confirmed or determined what denomination of faith he was affiliated with.  The couple did not waste much time before starting a family of their own.  The following year, the couple birthed their first child.  They had a son and named him Jessie.  Several years would pass before they would have more children.
            In 1880, Mr. Johnson and his family would move from Calhoun to Odessa, Michigan.  In 1882, the couple would have a second son named Warren.  Due to complications at birth, Warren died a few months later on March 17, 1883.  Mr. Johnson still continued to preach the gospel.  In 1909, his wife became very ill and died due to high cholesterol.  Mr. Johnson battled health issues of his own. He was overweight and battled with hypertension. He dieted and tried to watch what he ate. He even tried to exercise but in the end it still wasn't enough.   On August 20, 1925; he died from old age and recurred attack of apoplexy.  He was 73 years old.
            In conclusion, Mr. Johnson was a good man.  He loved and provided for his family.  He gave of himself freely and was an example of how a person should carry themselves.  He was a minister from a young adult until the time of his passing.  He lived a good and productive life.  He outlived his wife and one of his children.  As I stated before, health issues ran in his family but he did not let it stop him from living a long and prosperous life. Although he is gone his legacy lives on. He is known as a preacher who preached the truth. His messages made you think and examine yourself from within. He didn't preach many feel good sermons. He preached fire and brimstone.  Preaching was all he ever knew and it was the only job he ever had.