Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Alice Crimmins Case

Conviction, Collapse and a Fresh Start

Det. Kelly carries Alice after she fainted (CORBIS)
Det. Kelly carries Alice after she fainted

In its summation to the jury, the prosecution hypothesized that Alice had killed her daughter in momentary anger. The jury came back with a verdict of guilty of first-degree manslaughter. The shock of the verdict caused Crimmins to lapse into a coma. She was in the jail hospital for two weeks after her conviction. Transferred to prison, she became briefly hysterical, then appeared to settle down into prison routine. She was assigned to secretarial chores and, as she had in the free world, performed them in an excellent manner.

Her attorneys were soon back in court asking for a mistrial. Three of the jurors, one of them the Sam Ehrlich quoted above, had made trips to the crime scene despite the judges warning that they were not to visit it. The court denied the motion for a mistrial and sentenced Crimmins to a prison term of from five to twenty years.

Crimmins got a new lawyer, Herbert Lyon, an attorney well-known and well-respected in New York City. Many people were perplexed that he took the case, however, because he was an expensive lawyer and she was a pauper. Her familys savings had been spent paying for her first set of defense attorneys.

It turned out that Lyon and his partner, William M. Erlbaum had taken on the case for idealistic reasons: they were completely convinced of her innocence and were working for her free of charge. Lyon asked a Queens County Supreme Court judge for bail on the grounds that there was a good chance the conviction would not stand. It was granted and, after twenty-four days in prison, Alice Crimmins was free. The appellate court did not get around to considering the appeal until a year and four months later. They threw the conviction out. 

The second trial began in March 1971, six years after the deaths of the Crimmins children. This time, the stakes were even higher than they had been in the first trial for Alice had been indicted in both deaths. She was charged with the first-degree murder of her son Eddie and first-degree manslaughter in the death of Missy (the earlier verdict in Missys case had in effect acquitted her of the girls murder).

Public sentiment had shifted somewhat. Female promiscuity was no longer as shocking as it had been only three years previously. The women's liberation movement was a hot item in 1971, and some early feminists as well as other observers believed that Crimmins was being tried for her sex life and not for homicide. Not surprisingly, Alice Crimmins, whose self-esteem was so intimately tied to her appearance and who was so very dependent on men, was far closer to Marabel Morgan than Gloria Steinem in her beliefs about sex roles. Asked what she thought of feminism, she replied, "Oh, I'm for equal pay for equal work but not for all the far-out stuff. I don't hate men. I believe that women are put on this earth to serve men. A man should be dominant. I believe in women's liberation, but not at the price of my femininity.

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