(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.