(by Student #32 AMH 2010 1115)
The name in the file folder was Hope Phillips. Her prison record was one of many cataloged in the California Prison and Correctional Records between 1931 through 1936. Immediately, three details in her profile stood out: aged 20, housewife, and convicted of manslaughter. Mrs. Phillips received a sentence ranging from 0 to 10 years in early 1928 but was paroled in May of 1929. She was clearly very young and already labeled as a murderer, which made it all the more intriguing to find out exactly what she had done. I suspected that she may have been performing illegal abortions, since they weren’t legal back then and many young women and their husbands performed them in secret for money. However, I did not expect to find out what I did (or didn’t) about Hope Phillips.
After going on Ancestry, I was really only able to find her original prison records, which were already in the case file given to me. The only new information I found was that she was from Kentucky and had an estimated birth year around 1908. Even after being processed into the system, she had no exact birthdate written down anywhere, which I thought was odd. Deciding to take a break from Ancestry to see if I could find more details in an article, I turned to Newspapers. Just typing in “Hope Phillips Manslaughter” pulled up an array of different articles that had nothing to do with my Hope Phillips so I narrowed the search modifier to the Los Angeles Times (she was convicted in Los Angeles) and specified only articles between 1927- 1931. That’s where I found some answers about Mrs. Phillips crime. She was actually from San Francisco and claimed to be an actress. On December 1st, 1927, she was picked up by John
Schultz and an alleged second man, whose name was never disclosed, on her way to town. Later that night, at the intersection of 83rd Street and Vermont Avenue, Mrs. Phillips struck and killed 19-year-old Ethel Knudson while driving Schultz’s car, failed to pull over, and only stopped when she hit another car. Miss Knudson died due to severe head trauma and multiple broken bones (her body was dragged behind the car for about 30 feet), and her body was identified the next day by her mother at the city morgue after she failed to return home that night. Mrs. Phillips and Mr. Schultz were taken into custody after witnesses claimed that the car was speeding and an empty bottle of wine that they were believed to have been drinking was found near the scene of the crime. Mr. Schultz at first stated that Mrs. Phillips had been driving his car, but then changed his story after Mrs. Phillips claimed that the driver had actually been the alleged third person in the car who disappeared following the accident. The charges against Mr. Schultz were dropped, but following a court hearing, Mrs. Phillips was sentenced to 0 to 10 years in the San Quentin State Prison. Upon receiving this news, Mrs. Phillips fainted then went into a hysterical fit as officers dragged her out of the court room. My immediate thoughts were that it was a very dramatic exit for a self-proclaimed actress. A later article in the Los Angeles Times stated that she was paroled to her husband in 1929, but his name wasn’t stated. That left me at a dead end since without his name, it would be hard to find their marriage license on Ancestry. I still attempted to do so. I checked for her marriage license in Kentucky, San Francisco, and Los Angeles but nothing came up. All the Hope Phillips I found were mostly male. Without her marriage license, I had no way of knowing who her husband is or if they shared any children together. I tried tracing back her original Kentucky roots by looking up babies named Hope born around 1908, but the only Hope Phillips I could find who was female was born in Canada. It just didn’t make any sense. Besides her prison record, it was like she didn’t even exist which made
me wonder if she was even legally married or if she had even changed her name. I tried looking her name up on the internet to see if she’d been in any motion pictures during that time, but nothing came up. It became clear that she was probably just a self-proclaimed actress trying to get her foot in the door.
Hope Phillips was a very difficult woman to find. I can only imagine if she changed her name in order to start a new life as an actress, being from Kentucky and all. I wonder if she had a past that she was trying to get away from and that’s why it was so difficult to find anything concrete about her personal life. It’s so frustrating that I couldn’t find out more about her because I invested time into finding out about her life. One thing that became clear was that driving laws were a lot laxer back then, and she got off pretty clean. She only had to serve a year in a state prison. If she had been convicted today, she could have received at least 15 years in prison and 10,000 dollars in fines. If you add driving while intoxicated to that, it can become a first-degree felony. I genuinely wonder what happened to Hope Phillips after she was released from prison and hope that more information about her can be discovered.