50 Years Ago Today

Hi. Barb here.

I’ve just returned from a month in Key West where I am a deep devotee of The Key West Citizen, the wonderful daily newspaper. My favorite page is Page 2, which contains the Crime Report as well as the “feedback” from local citizens (Perpetual issue: Is there too much nudity at Fantasy Fest, Key West’s annual pre-Halloween celebration? Deeply held opinions on all sides.)

When Vicki Doudera was visiting I was able to illustrate why I love Page 2’s Crime Report. In that day’s story, Ms. Dulcinea dePoo was arrested for shoplifting at several stores on Duval Street. Ms. dePoo, who gave her professions as “artist,” at first claimed someone else had put the goods in her bag. Then she claimed she had an arrangement with one of the store managers who allowed her to shoplift, but they were fighting that day, so instead the manager called the cops.

My main reaction to this story was, “Damn, why have I never named a character ‘Dulcinea dePoo?'” Because is that not the best name ever?

For more than a week, I was completely captured by the drama of another Page 2 feature–This Day in History. Here’s how it unfolded.

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 13, 1964

This item was buried in among the bullet points about blockades of Cuban fishing boats and Cuban refugees burning Castro in effigy.

Betty Fernandez, 32, was on trial for second degree murder in Criminal Court. Fernandez was charged with the knife murder of her husband, Armando.

Hmm, a sad story no doubt, but not all that interesting.

Then the next day came this little gem.

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 14, 1964

The trial of Betty Fernandez for the murder of her husband was in its second day. Caridad Gomez was the key witness because Fernandez allegedly stabbed her husband in the heart in Gomez’s apartment in March 1963.

Ah-ha! It becomes clearer. Betty Fernandez stabbed her husband in the apartment of another woman. We can all imagine how this played out.

Then, two days later:

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 16, 1964

Mrs. Betty Fernandez took the stand and testified for 2 hours and 47 minutes to give her account of the events that led to her plunging a knife in the heart of her husband.

Betty takes the stand! Was that more the norm 50 years ago, or did her defense attorney think she had a particularly compelling story to tell?

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 17, 1964

The jury found Mrs. Betty Fernandez not guilty in the death of her husband, who she stabbed in the heart because she was trying to attack his girlfriend and stabbed him by accident.

Betty gets off! The jury believes her. Killing her husband was accidental–she actually meant to harm his girlfriend. This makes me wonder about the testimony of Caridad Gomez. She must have been a witness for the prosecution. Did she somehow make the jury sympathetic to Betty? Did the jury want to kill Caridad, too?

At this point, I figured the story was over. But wait–there’s more!

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 18, 1964

Mrs. Betty Fernandez, who was acquitted in the murder of her husband, was entitled to a share of his estate.

Well, I guess she would be, if she was innocent, right?

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 20, 1964

The Cadillac owned by Mrs. Betty Fernandez, who was acquitted of the murder of her husband, was destroyed by fire.

That can’t be a coincidence! Someone is very angry that Betty is inheriting her husband’s property. But who? Friends of Caridad Gomez who think she should have inherited? Armando’s family, angry that the person responsible for his death is getting the estate? Or is there just general town disgruntlement with the verdict which is being played out as vandalism? Also, though Betty is just 32, her husband owns a Cadillac. Were they weathy? I am dying to know.

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 21, 1964

Court records show that taxpayers paid nearly $2,000 for the trial of Mrs. Betty Fernandez, who was acquitted in the murder of her husband.

I’m not sure what the point of this was. That Betty should never have been subjected to prosecution, since she was innocent? Or, just another reason for the local citizenry to be riled up against this woman who has apparently gotten away with murder.

But alas, the final note about Betty’s travails is this.

Fifty Years Ago Today, January 22, 1964

Mrs. Betty Fernandez, who was acquitted in the murder of her husband, was being terrorized by anonymous phone calls.

And that is it. I’m intrigued by what happened to poor Betty after that, but the trail grows cold. But then, isn’t that what writing fiction is all about–filling in those blanks?

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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13 Responses to 50 Years Ago Today

  1. Karla Whitney says:

    Hmm … what kind of car might Betty be driving now? And, is Dulcinea dePoo in any part a family name? Intrigues to start the day. Thanks Barb!

    • Barb Ross says:

      dePoo is a common name in Key West, and in fact is the name on the mental hospital. The names is so marvelous, though, I did wonder if it belonged to one of Key West’s drag entertainers, though I don’t think it does.

  2. Jule Dupre says:

    LOL – truth is always stranger than fiction…..and inquiring minds always want to know what it is which they do not know because if they don’t learn it than they are going to make up a much better story….thanks for the morning laugh, Barb, as I try to figure out what’s wrong with our heating system on this minus nine degree morning…..maybe next year you will opt for 2 months in KW.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Love this story! And the name … I figured it was made up, too. But I guess not. Love that local color! (Some day I MUST make it to Key West!!)


  4. LOVE this story! Welcome back! Will I see you and Bill in Holliston in March to shoot guns?

    • Barb Ross says:

      Hi Vicki!

      Bill will be in Holliston shooting guns with you. Given how picky the “gun people” can be, I endeavor to keep the gun play in my books as vague as possible–though I did have to ask our own John Clark a duck hunting gun question for my last book!

  5. MareF says:

    I love it all!

  6. sherryharris says:

    You are always entertaining, Barb! What a great story — I love the dePoo name too. My mom’s newspaper had a Spout Off column for several years. Great entertainment but I don’t think I ever followed the this day in history section.


    Betty’s car was a pink Cadillac convertible. She left Key West with her two small children br Armando and lived a happy life. She died at the age of 84. She was a wonderful mother!

    Her daughter

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