Welcome back to The Hogue Connection and Part 6 of Criminal in the Family! At the end of Part 5, Bertie and Marion Larner were assisted by two good Samaritans and taken to the hospital in Cordell after their “accident” on SH 41.
The Doctor Observes an Unusual Scene.
Dr. A.H. Bunghardt founded Florence Hospital in Cordell back in 1911. He named it after his wife and presided over the care of many since then. A new hospital was built in 1957. The old building has since been converted to senior living apartments. He was called in late that night, 31 Mar 1938, when the Larners were brought in by the helpful citizens. I doubt this was the first time he was called in late.
After his initial assessment, he noticed that Marion’s injuries were superficial and could wait, but Bertie needed more assistance. The doctor took her in right way and went to work while a nurse cared for Marion. The doctor and his staff listened to stories of the evening’s events from both patients and found that they didn’t jive. Bunghardt noted that Bertie’s injuries did not fit in with Marion’s explanation of the crash. He put a call in to Sheriff Oscar Doran and told him exactly that.
After Bertie received first aid, her chances of survival were bleak. She had a fractured skull and had lost a great deal of blood. Marion was recovering well from his minor injuries and sat at Bertie’s side holding her hand, acting distraught and telling nurses he was praying for her recovery. He claimed that approaching headlights had temporarily blinded him, causing the crash.
Larner went on and on…it was their anniversary, and now he was losing the love of his life and the mother of his children. Bertie Mae Bewley Larner died from her injuries on 1 Apr 1938, at 6:00 AM. Bunghardt listed the cause of death as a severe head injury. Marion took a taxi home to tell the tragic news to his daughters.
The Investigation Begins.
Bolstered by Dr. Bunghardt’s observations, Sheriff Doran and his deputy Philo Lambert of the Washita County Sheriff’s Office, came into the hospital after Marion left and examined Bertie’s clothing. The back of the coat was covered in blood. The sheriff noticed very little on the front. There was a bloody suede glove for the left hand, but the other was missing. The officers then drove out to the crash scene and found more inconsistencies.
After taking photos and checking out the damage to the car, the fraud became more apparent. The damage to the front of the car was minimal, and tire tracks did not indicate that the car had left the road at a high speed or skidded at all. They noticed pine needles stuck in the trim on the passenger’s side. Broken glass from the windshield littered the floorboard. Impact from the inside would have likely thrown glass forward. The front of the windshield was battered with a blunt object.
They noticed the tools in the back seat and a spot for what seemed to be a hammer. Doran knew about the pine tree on the north side of the road toward town and drove back to that spot. He saw more tire tracks there that went up close to the pine and found what appeared to be the missing right hand glove.
Sheriff Doran called County D.A. Raymond Plumlee on his return to the station and reviewed his findings. Both men realized something diabolical was going on and made the decision to call in the State Criminologist, Dr. J.R. Duncan from Oklahoma City to have him look at the case. They needed to find that missing hammer.
Marion Tries to Get Back to the Normal Life.
After breaking the news to his daughters and rest of his family, including the Bewleys, it’s likely Marion went ahead with funeral plans and returning his life to a normal routine. In his mind, he got away with murder. Larner had no idea, however, that he had botched the crime so badly. He also did not know that local law enforcement was pooling their resources to uncover his conspiracy.
More on the murder of Bertie Mae Larner next week in Part 7.
Thanks for reading Part 6…Criminal in the Family on my blog! See you back at The Hogue Connection soon! You can return to the Home Page here.