Was Alice Crimmins on trial for the murder of her two children...or for her colourful sex-life?
Most defendants don’t take the stand when they’re on trial for murder.
Alice Crimmins did.
But when the lawyers started firing questions at her, perhaps she regretted it.
‘What were you wearing when you went swimming in your boyfriend’s pool?’ the lawyer asked.
‘One time, a bathing suit,’ Alice replied. ‘And one time, no bathing suit.’
The lawyer cleared his throat.
‘Where were your children when you were swimming without a bathing suit in your boyfriend’s swimming pool?’ he asked next.
‘They were dead.’
Across the packed courtroom, there was a gasp.
The newspapers had called it the ‘Sexpot Trial.’ And now, the jury was in no doubt why.
Before long, it was time for Alice Crimmins’ boyfriend to take the stand, too.
The one who owned the pool.
He was Joe Rorech. A wealthy property developer, he’d met Alice while she’d been working as a cocktail waitress.
Joe may or may not have gone swimming that day without a bathing suit. The lawyer didn’t ask him.
‘What did you and Alice talk about by the pool?’ came the lawyer’s question.
‘She told me she’d killed her two kids,’ Joe replied.
Straightaway Alice was on her feet.
‘I thought you were my friend!’ she shouted at Joe from the other side of the courtroom. ‘How could you? How could you?’
It was 1968, New York City.
Alice Crimmins was 29. And on trial for the murders of her two children, Eddie, 5, and Missy, 4.
Every day in court, she wore her strawberry-blonde hair in the bouffant style popular at the time.
People said in the newspapers she wore too much make-up.
They didn’t know it was to cover up the scarring on her face she had from teenage acne.
The case against her was that on the night of 14 July 1965, she strangled her two kids. And then she’d dumped their tiny bodies a few blocks away from her apartment.
Alice had split up from Eddie Snr, the children’s dad, shortly after their daughter was born.
They’d been high school sweethearts, married at 18 and set up home together in New York City’s Kew Gardens district.
Soon, it was clear they wanted different things.
Even though he was just 18, Eddie was happy to settle down. Alice wasn’t.
She started seeing other men.
In 1964, after they’d been together nearly 8 years, Eddie left Alice.
He’d caught her in bed with another man.
The children had stayed with their mum.
But Eddie wasn’t convinced that was the best place for them.
Who knew what men she might be bringing home?
He was filing for sole custody at the time the children were killed.
Alice had woken up that morning and found both the kids had vanished from their room in their ground-floor flat.
First, she’d called Eddie. Then Eddie had called the police.
That same day, Missy’s body had been found in a vacant lot nearby. Strangled.
Eddie Jnr, a couple of days later, by a roadside, also strangled.
Now in court, the lawyers suggested to the jury made up of 12 men that young Alice Crimmins had killed her children so she could be free to enjoy her life.
Police officers testified she’d seemed ‘unmoved’ when she’d been shown Missy’s dead body.
‘She was a cold bitch,’ one officer said.
They said that just days after the kids had been killed, she’d gone out partying.
She’d been skinning dipping that afternoon with Joe Rorech… then a night out on the town drinking cocktails.
She’d been given a lie-detector test, but had run out of the room after only a couple of questions.
Why, if she had nothing to hide?
Trouble was, there was no evidence against Alice. Just a feeling the police had. Cold bitch…
She was a woman who liked to live fast, so why wouldn’t she be a cold-blooded killer?
And one of Alice’s neighbours even took to the stand. Sophie Earomirski claimed she’d seen Alice in the middle of the night in question, with an unknown man.
She said Alice was carrying a child-sized bundle of blankets, and another child was following her on foot.
‘Hurry up,’ the unknown man said in the darkness.
‘Sssh!’ Alice replied. ‘Be quiet or someone will see us.’
That was Sophie’s story, anyway.
When Alice’s lawyers came to question Sophie, they pointed out that as a writer, she had a history of embellishing details. She’d also suffered a head injury a few years before and had memory problems.
How could her evidence be trusted?
Alice’s lawyers also defended her reaction to seeing Missy’s body.
The police said she’s seemed ‘unmoved’…but in reality, she’d been in shock. People react differently.
She’d cried later. She cried in court, too, when officers described he child’s corpse.
And yes, she’d gone out partying soon after the children’s deaths.
Not because she was a cold-blooded killer.
But because she was struggling to cope and couldn’t bear to be at home alone, surrounded by memories of her kids.
She’d left the lie-detector test for the same reason. It had all got too much.
Alice Crimmins wasn’t a killer. She was a woman who’d had children before she’d been ready for them.
Yes, she’d had boyfriends. She was a young person enjoying young-person things.
But she’d loved her kids. And had been preparing to fight Eddie Snr in court for custody of them.
There was, however, one question that went unanswered in court: if Alice hadn’t killed her kids, who had?
The kids’ bedroom had been on the ground floor. And on that hot July night, they’d been sleeping with the window open.
Anyone could have got in. And perhaps anyone did.
Yes, Alice enjoyed sex. And yes, she wore make-up and had a fashionable hair-do.
But that didn’t make her a child-killer.
Alice Crimmins’ lawyers had finished presenting their case.
The jury of 12 men retired.
Their verdict would decide the fate of the only woman in the courtroom.
In the end, Alice Crimmins was found guilty not of murder, but of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
She fainted when the verdict was read and spent two weeks recovering in hospital before going to prison.
Two months later, the conviction was overturned – the judge felt Alice had been tried not for homicide, but for her sex life.
She was free.
Six years later, in 1971, she was charged again with the first-degree murder of Eddie Jnr and the manslaughter of Missy. She was again found guilty. She was paroled in 1977 and disappeared from public view.