Los Tulares is a quarterly publication of the Tulare County Historical Society that appears in March, June, September and December. Members of the society look forward to receiving their issue in the mail every quarter. It serves two basic purposes. First of all, it keeps members informed about news and activities of the society, but more importantly it documents the history of Tulare County. Through stories and articles from contributing authors, Los Tulares has become a trusted source for our county’s history. Published continuously since 1948, Los Tulares is an amazing source for researchers throughout the world. The editors work hard at keeping it the pride of the society. The issues are fully indexed, and back issues may be ordered through our online gift shop.

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Please enjoy the following story from the December 2016 publication of Los Tulares:

 

Speedy Justice

By Judge David L. Allen, Retired

On the evening of November 18, 1934, James Tritely hurriedly entered Visalia police headquarters and told officers Robert Williams and James Fluty that “something was wrong” near his home on N. Tipton Street. He related that earlier in the evening he went downtown for a short time and then returned home. As he approached his home he heard a woman screaming, “He’s killing me, he’s killing me,” and he thought the screams were coming from the adjacent Haynes property. Officers Williams and Fluty agreed to investigate the incident and drove to the Haynes residence. James Haynes, his wife Evaline Haynes, and her son Harold Bieber were at home, but claimed no knowledge of any problems that evening at their residence. Mrs. Haynes told officers that her daughter, Lena Blair, suffered a small scratch that day as a result of a family dispute, but emphatically denied that any other incidents of a serious nature occurred at the house.

This incident appeared similar to previous family disputes at the Haynes property, so the officers believed that the current incident was just another minor disturbance at the Haynes place. The officers knew that in March 1934, Harold Bieber was sentenced to six months in custody for an assault and battery committed at the Haynes residence. They also knew that in August 1934, Harold Bieber, age 41, and his sisters, Lena Blair, age 49, and Grace Miller, age 40, were sentenced to serve 30 days in custody for disturbing the peace at their home on Tipton Street. The officers accepted Mrs. Haynes’ statement of this incident as just another minor family dispute and concluded the investigation without making any arrests. They made a brief written report of the incident when they returned to the police department.

The next morning about 5 a.m. Dr. Frank Guido, a Visalia physician, received a phone call asking for his assistance at the Haynes residence. Upon his arrival he was led to a room where he did a hasty examination of Lena Blair. Dr. Guido quickly determined that she was dead, probably from a puncture wound he observed on her left abdomen. He estimated that she had died at least four hours earlier. Immediately following his brief examination of the body, Dr. Guido called the police and informed them that he believed Blair was the victim of a homicide. Chief of Police Basil Hudson and Coroner J. M. Hadley were the first responders to the Haynes residence, joined a short time later by Deputy District Attorney Sherill Halbert and Special Investigator John Lotito.

Neither the Haynes nor Bieber provided the investigators with any helpful information regarding Blair’s death. Bieber and Haynes insisted that they had no knowledge of the circumstances causing her demise, but the Haynes did say that Bieber and Blair had been drinking earlier that evening. As the investigation progressed, the officers became highly suspicious of Bieber’s denials concerning Blair’s death. They suspected that Bieber knew considerably more than he revealed, so they arrested him for the murder and took him to the Tulare County jail.

Shortly after Bieber’s arrest, officers Halbert, Hudson and Lotito found a 12” butcher knife concealed in a water cabinet near Bieber’s room. Laboratory tests on the knife disclosed minute traces of blood on the blade and hasp. Armed with this new evidence, Halbert and Lotito contacted Bieber at the jail and outlined the case against him. They said they could show that Bieber knew about Blair’s affair with Tritely and that Bieber had warned her to stay away from Tritely. They informed Bieber that Blair, clad in her nightdress and slippers, was seen by Bieber as she slipped out of the Haynes home on her way to Tritely’s house. The investigators suggested that when Bieber observed Blair walking toward Tritely’s house, he retrieved the butcher knife and went looking for her. They believed that he entered Tritely’s home, located Lena Blair in Tritely’s bedroom, and stabbed her with the knife. The pattern of the blood stains indicated that she staggered through the house leaving a clear trail of blood from Tritely’s bedroom to a location outside the house where she collapsed.

After listening to the officers outline their case against him, Bieber made the following statement to the officers, “Well I guess they can’t do anymore than hang me. It happened just like you got it doped out. I told her not to have anything to do with Tritely, but she didn’t pay any attention to me. Sunday night I saw her going into his place and I went over there. I saw Tritely, but he said she wasn’t in there. After he talked to me, Tritely went downtown.” (Visalia Times Delta, November 20, 1934)

Bieber said that after speaking to Tritely he returned to the Haynes house and looked in Lena’s bedroom. She was not there, nor was she anywhere else inside the house. He believed she was hiding somewhere inside Tritely’s house, so he picked up the butcher knife and returned to Tritely’s home with the intention of killing both of them. Tritely had not returned from downtown, so Bieber searched the house looking for Blair. He found the terrified woman hiding behind a bed and grabbed her arm, yanking her to her feet.

According to Bieber, there was a brief struggle and she “ran against the knife.” A short time later he made an additional confession stating that on the day prior to the killing he took the butcher knife, that had been sharpened, and carried this knife with him when he returned to Tritely’s house. Bieber again admitted that he went to Tritely’s house with the intention of killing Blair and Tritely. And, as he said in his first statement, he found his sister in the bedroom and pulled her up from the floor. This time there was virtually no struggle and she did not run into his knife. Bieber said that after pulling her up from the floor, he threw her onto the bed. Then he grabbed her by the throat with one hand and pinned her down on the bed. While keeping her pinned to the bed with one hand, he used the other hand to plunge the knife into her abdomen. Blair managed to clamber off the bed, and gravely injured, staggered through the house and out the back door where she collapsed. Bieber rushed to the Haynes residence and told Mr. Haynes that he had stabbed Blair.

After making his confession, Bieber insisted that he be taken immediately before a judge to admit his guilt, and he strongly protested having to wait until the next day, November 20, when his arraignment was scheduled.

The next day in the courtroom of Judge Frank Lamberson, Bieber emotionally told the court that he wanted to plead guilty and then hang for the crime he had committed. Judge Lamberson was hesitant to take a guilty plea from Bieber under these circumstances, so the judge informed Bieber that he would set November 22 as the time for entry of a plea. Judge Lamberson also advised Bieber that attorneys J. Thomas Crowe and R. E. Combs were appointed to represent him. However, Bieber insisted that his plea be entered immediately without the benefit of counsel and without further delay. He was warned that a conviction for an offense of this nature would result in either a life sentence, or more likely, the death penalty. Nonetheless, Bieber rejected the court’s advice that a short delay to get legal assistance would be in his best interest, and reiterated his desire to enter a plea immediately. After further discussion, Judge Lamberson agreed that he would, without further delay, accept Bieber’s plea of guilty to the murder of Lena Blair. Sentencing was set for November 23.

Bieber was returned to jail to await his sentence, and while in jail he wrote two separate statements which he read to the judge at the November 23 sentencing hearing. The first statement went as follows, “This is a true confession that I Harold P. Bieber am guilt of the cold-blooded murder [sic] went over to that house with the intention of killing both of them and I do not want any recommendation for leincy [sic] from the court. So give me the death penalty and then the people will be satisfied with a life for a life. Signed Harold P Bieber.”

He then read a second confession to Judge Lamberson which said, “I had repeatedly warned my sister, Mrs. Lena Blair, to stay away from Jim Tritely or I would kill her and Tritely too. I went over to the Tritely cabin about 10:45 pm, Sunday, November 18, and asked Tritely if my sister was in his cabin. He told me that she was not there. I then went to John Haynes house and made sure my sister was not in her room. Then I went to the tank house and got a butcher knife. I then went to the Tritely cabin, went inside and lit a match. My sister was hiding on the floor between the bed and the wall. She jumped up and ran toward the door. I sulfide [sic] with her, threw her down on the bed and held her by the throat and with my right hand stabbed her in the side with the butcher knife, and I do not want any leincy [sic] from the court. Harold P Bieber, November 22, 1934.” (Visalia Times Delta, November 24, 1934.)

 After Bieber’s statements to the court, Bieber’s attorneys, the district attorney, and the chief of police discussed some matters concerning a proposed sentence. After making their comments, the parties informed Judge Lamberson that they had nothing further to offer on the issue of penalty. Judge Lamberson, after considering all the relevant evidence and arguments presented by the parties, concluded that Bieber should hang for the offense he committed. A couple of days later Bieber was moved from the Tulare County Jail to Folsom Prison. February 1, 1935, was the date fixed for his execution.

A few days before Bieber’s execution, his mother, Mrs. Haynes, employed mortician Roy Brooks to be present at the hanging at Folsom Prison and then bring her dead son back to Visalia for a proper burial. Several days after the execution, Bieber’s funeral service was conducted at the Brooks funeral parlor and Bieber was laid to rest in the Visalia Cemetery near his murdered sister, Lena Blair. About 50 years later, Roy Brooks wrote a graphic and vivid account detailing the facts of Bieber’s execution and had it published in the July 1984, quarterly bulletin of Los Tulares (see “Man Hanged at Folsom” Los Tulares issue #143).

Lena Blair’s homicide does not rise to the level of a significant or important event in the annals of Tulare County’s criminal history. Many other homicides committed in Tulare County were far more sensational and newsworthy and have been written about in books and articles by local historians Terry Ommen, Lee Edwards, and Ronn Couillard. But there is one fact that makes Bieber’s murder of Lena Blair historically significant. Bieber committed the murder on November 18, 1934, and he was hanged on February 1, 1935. That is only 75 days from the commission of the crime to imposition of sentence. Seldom in the history of Tulare County has a legal execution taken place so quickly after arrest and conviction.

Hence, “Speedy Justice” seems to be an apt title for this article.

bieber

Mug shot of Harold P. Bieber when admitted into Folsom Prison. [Courtesy of California State Archives]

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