Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life of Gladys Towles Root

'She Beat Me!'

Root subscribed to the belief, common at the time she came of age, that rape was motivated purely by lust and that women, through their dress and manner, aroused men beyond their ability to control themselves. Free living is what gets women into trouble and makes things hard on the men who may end up raping them, she once said. If women were more careful about where they went and who they went with and if they had more respect for themselves thered be fewer rape cases.

As Charlotte A. Daniellson astutely noted in her story on Root for the Stanford Law Schools Womens Legal History Project, in the courtroom, Root was able to use the fact of her own gender to both her clients and her own advantage often at the expense of other women. One of the most striking examples of this is found in her defense of Lee Heater, a pale, dark-haired, and slightly built 27-year-old ranch hand accused of forcible rape accompanied with acts of extreme violence.

In 1959, a woman in the hamlet of Pahrump, Nevada stumbled into Jims Bar, the establishment at which she had earlier flirted with, and then left with, Heater. Her name was Maxine Haley. She was a middle-aged, married woman with three stepchildren and sometime prostitute at an establishment in nearby Ash Meadow. She had been on her way to the brothel when she agreed to give Heater a ride back to his ranch.

When she appeared in the bar the second time, Haley was distressed, disheveled, with a black eye and many bruises. She told the folks gathered at the watering hole that she had been assaulted and that the man who had done the deed was outside at that very moment..

Outraged, the guys in the bar immediately turned into a mob. They flew upon the alleged scoundrel, slapping and kicking him into the desert dirt even as he shouted: She beat me! She beat me! She beat me! He was soon aided by the owner of the bar, Jim himself, who came out asking the guys to cool it. Jim was able to get them to lay off and Heater trudged along the road back to his trailer at the ranch at which he worked.

Exhausted, Heater was asleep in the nude when a sudden commotion brought him to his feet. But he was soon flat on his back, a bullet in his stomach. For almost three days, he lay helpless, bleeding, and in agony, on the floor of his trailer. Eventually, he managed to drag himself out of it and onto the road. A driver spotted the wounded man and phoned the cops. Heater was taken to a hospital.

Also in a hospital was Maxine Haley. When the police first interviewed her, she babbled that three men had attacked her. Later, she said it was only one: Lee Heater. He had raped her more than once, tied her up spread-eagled, and beaten her. According to her, Heater had triumphantly said, I am the master and you are my slave, as he was abusing her. He had also requested, Would you do me a favor and beat me? and she had complied. Regardless of whose idea it was, police photographs would show that Lee Heater had bruises on his back that were consistent with a thrashing.

Lee Heater told Gladys Towles Root a story that differed radically from Haleys. According to him, they were stopped outside the ranch but still in her car, when she turned to him and asked, How do you like your sex, Lee? Before he could answer, she continued, I like mine with a little punishment. She demanded his belt and he handed it over.

When they left the car, she began flogging him with the belt. Getting excited, she shouted, Im the master! Youre my slave!

Eventually Lee found the pain of the beating too much to bear. He fled from her and found refuge in a little shed.

Lee? Lee? Lee? she called.

He rested behind a keg, thinking he was safe from his tormentor but she found him. To defend himself, he grabbed a length of rubber hose that was lying around. He ran away from her again and she chased her hapless quarry around the ranch. According to his story, she was faster than he was and, although he was used to the manual labor required on a ranch, physically stronger, he said, she not only caught up with him but overpowered the man, tied him up, and beat him with a broom handle. Eventually, her apparently Amazonian strength wore out. For some reason, she then untied him. Infuriated, he started hitting her with the broom handle. She took it away from him and did likewise. Then he took it from her again.

Lee said the pair then found their way to the barn that contained a small bed. Although they were both badly bruised and worn out, they were, he claimed, still in the mood for sex and a lot of it followed. At one point, he put the broom handle up a willing Maxine.

The charges against Heater carried possible sentences of death, life without parole, or from 10 years to life. The case was heard before Judge Peter Breen and prosecuted by District Attorney William Beko. A jury was seated of nine men and three women, most of them middle-aged or senior citizens.

During Roots cross-examination of the alleged victim, the attorney zeroed in on the discrepancy of Haleys having said she was planning to drive to Ash Meadow and her having left her overnight bag at the bar. Root indicated that this suggested she planned to return to the bar after enjoying some action with Heater.

Root probably scored her major points during her passionate summation. There is no question that she [Maxine Haley] was badly beaten, as the district attorney has pictures to prove, Root conceded. However, most of the bruises are on the back of the body, indicating that she voluntarily submitted to the beating by reason of her masochistic tendencies. Why a person could not be forcibly beaten on the back of the body was not a question Root felt obliged to tackle.

She did point out that the person who shot Heater had, at least to that point in time, not been arrested. Where is the man who did the shooting? she asked. Why isnt he before you, ladies and gentlemen, the man who attempted to take a life? Has the prosecution made bargains behind your backs? Are they the jury, ladies and gentlemen? Or are you the jury?

Why would Haley fabricate this story of rape and torture? The motive in this case is plain, Root insisted. Jealousy. Maxine Haley wanted to make her husband jealous. Thats why she was going to Ash Meadow. The Lee Heater incident presented an even greater opportunity. Publicity and notoriety focused on her. And to show him [her husband] that she could get another man.

Here was a woman many years older than the defendant. All of you know the powers of a woman. A woman can control any sex situation. The male body is susceptible to her charms. A male can be manipulated, his will bent and directed. Even before the feminist movement, these sentiments could have rankled the women on the jury had a man delivered them. Said by Gladys Towles Root, they powerfully conjured up the image of woman-as-temptress that is part of our collective cultural heritage.

The hand that rocks the cradle still rules the world, she continued. And this hand of Maxine Haley undid Lee Heaters trousers and took off his belt. Was she not the one who was asking? Was she not the one who was rocking the cradle?

The jury actually applauded at this point.

What would your son have done under the same circumstances? she rhetorically asked the mostly aging members of the jury. But for the grace of God, there go you or your son!

A spectator cried out, Praise the Lord! and Root ended her speech.

The jury found Lee Heater guilty of only assault and battery, a misdemeanor. Judge Breen sentenced him to 30 days in jail and the payment of a $250 fine.

 

 

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