The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison

The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison

The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison

The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison


law and disorder in 1930s Los Angeles while bringing to life a remarkable character whose plight reflects on the status of woman, the workings of the media and the judiciary system, and the stratification of society in her time. An intriguing cultural history, Cairns's re-creation of the case from murder to trial to aftermath casts an eye forward to our own love-hate affair with celebrity crimes and our abiding ambivalence about domestic violence abuse as a defense for murder.


Nellie Madison, 1895–1953

Mountain View Cemetery sits at the junction of two busy highways on the edge of San Bernardino, a city of about two hundred thousand that lies seventy miles east of Los Angeles. in this peaceful place, the hum of quiet conversations and nearby traffic, lulling sounds of sprinklers, and fragrance of fresh-cut flowers are the only tangible reminders of lives still unfolding beyond the rows of graves that stretch toward the horizon on sixty-four acres of clipped, emerald green lawn.

Looking north from the cemetery on a clear day, visitors can see the San Bernardino Mountains. But there are not many clear days in this part of Southern California. For much of the year ocean breezes flow through the Los Angeles basin to the east, carrying exhaust from millions of cars traveling the region’s vast network of freeways. the winds blow from Malibu and Santa Monica through Hollywood, Los Angeles, Burbank, Pasadena, and the San Gabriel Valley until they finally reach San Bernardino. There they bump up against the mountains and spread their murky wings across the city, giving the air a brownish-gray hue and bringing an acrid smell and lung-constricting heaviness that makes it hard to take a deep breath, particularly during the hot summer months.

More than seventy thousand people have been buried at Mountain View since its beginnings in 1907, when San Bernardino was . . .

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