Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Alice Crimmins Case

Mystery Most Frustrating

A close, objective look at the matter shows that, despite two convictions, the "guilt" of Alice Crimmins remains problematic. For one thing, the case was "solved" with major loose ends dangling. According to the prosecution's own theory of the crime, the mother could only have murdered with the help of at least two accomplices, yet no one else was ever even charged, much less tried, in connection with the deaths.

At a time when the issue of memory and its reliability is so prominent, when "False Memory Syndrome" v. "Recovered Memory" is debated by psychologists and the courts, the Crimmins case takes on a special relevancy because the trustworthiness of the human memory played an extraordinary role in it. 

First, there was the strange certainty of Alice Crimmins' own memory. She said that she had fed her kids veal at 7:30PM on the evening of July 13,1965. Then she had taken them for a ride, gassed up her car at nine o'clock, returned home, and put them to bed. She looked in on them at midnight and took little Eddie to the bathroom. Missy had stayed in bed because she didn't have to go. After returning the boy to bed, she attached the hook-and-eye latch that she had put on the door. (This lock, Crimmins said, was to stop the chubby boy from raiding the refrigerator at night. The cops thought it was to prevent either child from walking in on their mother when she was with a boyfriend.) Then she fell asleep in her clothes, awakened, walked her dog, took a bath, and finally retired for the night -- at four o'clock AM. 

Questioned repeatedly about these mundane events, Crimmins remained stubbornly positive. No, she could not possibly be off by, say, an hour as to the time they ate. She checked on them at midnight, no earlier, no later. When two gas station attendants said that she had come to the station at five thirty PM, she called them "liars," refusing to acknowledge that she might be in error about a matter that was, in and of itself, irrelevant.

The veal or macaroni question is one of the most troubling aspects of the case. Many observers, including, most importantly, two juries, have found Crimmins insistence that she fed her children veal and the Medical Examiners failure to find meat in Missys stomach utterly damning. However, one must ask why Crimmins would make up such a story. As writer Albert Borowitz has noted, it is highly unlikely that Crimmins knew enough about forensics to deliberately create such an enigma. Furthermore, she specified buying it that very day at a deli at which she was well known and where her story could be checked out. As it happened, the deli owner couldnt remember what she had bought but there was no way she could bank on that. Nor could she know that Piering would not better preserve or record the crime scene.

Detective Gerard Piering was so confident of his memory that he "forgot" more substantial methods of evidence gathering like taking photographs, making notes, or just preserving it.

Joe Rorech and Sophie Earomirski also had fascinating memories. 

In the first trial, Rorech testified that his ex-girlfriend had confessed, "I killed her." Since Crimmins was accused of killing her daughter only, tying her to the death of her son would have been grounds for a mistrial. Thus, if she had told him," I killed my kids," it would have been inadmissible. 

If she had confessed to the killing of Missy only, Rorech would have been of no extra value in the second trial. But he testified at that event that Alice Crimmins had told him, "Forgive me, Joe, I killed her" and "I didn't kill want him killed. I agreed [to it]." This precise wording that Crimmins used, at least as he remembered the conversation, gave Rorech's testimony maximum prosecutorial impact at both events.

The memory of Sophie Earomirski seemed to grow with time. In her initial epistle, she said she had seen something "which may be connected or then again it may not. By the time she testified before a grand jury, Sophie Earomirski not only knew with certainty that the woman was Alice Crimmins but recalled dramatic dialogue -- even though she had heard it from some two hundred feet away.

Moreover, there is something inherently fishy about that family grouping. Albert Borowitz asks if, having just witnessed his sisters death, little Eddie would so very passively have gone to his own. Perhaps it is even more unbelievable that he would not have shown more concern for the bundle that his mother carried. At five years old, he would not have developed the defense mechanism against emotional displays that most adult males -- and some females like Alice Crimmins herself -- acquire. Wouldnt he have been crying in his grief? Wouldnt he have been demanding to hold the little sister he loved so dearly and so protectively?

Was Alice Crimmins "railroaded"? Not quite. As Ann Jones wrote, "She was granted no presumption of innocence." The common prejudice against sexually adventurous women tipped the scales of justice toward conviction and blackened her name. While she lives out the rest of her life in freedom and anonymity as well as -- perhaps -- the material comfort and security of her second husband's affluence, in the annals of murder cases, she remains "Alice Crimmins, Child-killer."

There is a crying need for closure and solution when an outrage has been committed and that is especially true when the victims are children. However, to those who take the time and trouble to familiarize themselves with the details of the Crimmins case, the deaths of little Eddie and Missy remain that most frustrating of puzzles, an intractable mystery.

Alice Crimmins with her two children
Alice Crimmins with her two children

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