On Friday, June 22, 1934, at the age of 39, Nellie May Madison was convicted of “murder in the first degree” in the shooting death of her husband of less than one year, Eric Madison. On Tuesday, June 26, 1934 she was sentenced to hang at the gallows of San Quentin. That year of marriage, that crime of murder, the ensuing trial and her incarceration at the Women’s Institution at Tehachapi would come to define her life.
In reality Nellie Madison was a bit of a tomboy who grew up with a large family on a ranch in Montana. She was a crack shot with a rifle and had an independent spirit that gave her the courage to travel to the big city of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, as often happens with human beings, who she was on her own and who she was in a relationship were a bit at odds. Starting with her choice of partners. Eric Madison, by far, being her worst choice.
It took another independent spirit, Herald and Express reporter Agness Underwood to bring the public the true story behind Nellie’s crime. Hers was a story that would stir friends, strangers, activists and even every member of the jury that sentenced her to death, to implore not one but three California governors to not only spare her life, but reduce her time in prison.
With a reporter’s style, Kathleen A. Cairns takes us through Nellie Madison’s depression era trial and the Los Angeles media coverage which dubbed her “The Enigma Woman” due to her apparent lack of emotion in the courtroom and throughout her appearances in front of the news cameras.
This is a clearly well researched, straight-forward account of The People of California v. NellieMay Madison and Ms. Madison’s consequent time in prison. Unfortunately, no doubt due to the passage of time, The Enigma Woman is sorely lacking in much personal detail of it’s subject beyond this short period. The book does, however, include a section of Bibliographic Essays that help in establishing more over all background for each chapter. I would suggest reading each of these essays both before and after their respective chapters.