July 20, 1957
A maid at a Riverside hotel found the battered, nude body of
5-year-old Hiedrun “Heidi” Nicholson bent over double and stuffed into a closet.
It looked “as if someone had been pounding her with a hammer,” The Times said, quoting another hotel maid. The autopsy showed she had a collapsed lung from a broken rib and bruises over most of her body.
The girl and her mother, Felicitas Nicholson, a 31-year-old German war bride, had checked into the motel with Harry Vern Gates, 40, a Santa Ana salesman.
When he was questioned about Heidi’s death, Gates told police he had taken Nicholson to another motel in Maywood but insisted that she said her daughter was staying with friends.
Police discovered that Feliticas was already in jail after an officer found her lying on the sand in Long Beach at the end of 36th Place.
She was semiconscious and incoherent, according to police, and her purse contained her last will and testament, requesting a Christian burial.
In later interviews, she told police she was a commercial artist and that her parents still lived behind the Iron Curtain in Leipzig, East Germany.
She said she had been married to Air Force Master Sgt. Raymond Nicholson of Stillwater, Okla.
She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to the gas chamber after
Gates testified that Felicitas told her daughter she didn’t love her
anymore and was going to get rid of her.
However, Feliticas was the first person to be tried under a new
California law requiring a sanity hearing for those sentenced to die.
After a 32-day trial, the jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.
Halfway through the second sanity trial, the judge halted the proceedings and declared Felicitas insane, committing her to
Patton State Hospital.
The judge ordered that she be retried if she ever regained her sanity.
And then Feliticas Solveig Nicholson vanished without a trace.