Prisoner’s dream

 

1957_0815_roberts_hed

1957_0815_roberts
Aug. 16, 1957


Santa Monica

We will never know what really happened on the night ad executive Guy F. Roberts was shot to death in a Santa Monica motel room because everyone involved was lying to cover
up the truth and–except for the detectives who coerced a phony
confession–wildly drunk.

The newspapers finally published an
account that was fairly factual, but only years after a young man was
wrongly convicted in the killing. I would like to think that at least
some good came out of all the injustice.

The main characters are:

  • Nina C. Miles, who at the age of 37 was about to make Roberts her seventh husband. She and Roberts were living in the motel at 2801 Santa Monica Blvd.
    where the killing occurred. Nina had moved in with the victim two weeks
    earlier after living for several years with one of his friends, William
    "Billy" Miles.  Between the killing and the trial, she and William got
    married in Tijuana. 
  • Charles L. Guy III, Nina’s son by her first husband, who had
    already served time for drunk driving. Although his mother had moved
    out, Charles was still living with William at 419 Hill St., Ocean Park.
  • Charles L. Guy Jr., Nina’s first husband, a prosecutor in Dunn, N.C., who had been estranged from his son for many years.
  • An unidentified investigator with the Santa Monica Police Department, most likely Detective Ward Bell or Robert Holborow, who obtained a coerced confession.

1957_0815_charles_guy_mug
Here’s what happened: Although she has been living
with Roberts for two weeks and plans to marry him, Nina and Charles
conclude an evening of bar-hopping by going to the cocktail lounge
where William plays the piano, having left Roberts asleep in the motel
room.

Charles and William argue and Charles leaves in Roberts’ car. When
William finishes his set at 12:30 a.m., he and Nina go to his home and
have more drinks. Nina finally leaves by taxi but stops along the way to have another drink.

About
2 a.m. she finally returns to the motel room and gets some money off
the top of the dresser to pay the cabdriver. She comes back, sits down
on the bed and only then notices that the room
has been ransacked, that there’s blood everywhere and that Roberts has
been
killed with a shotgun blast that tore away the left side of his
face.

"Men’s
and women’s clothing was strewn about the room," the Mirror said.
"Bureau drawers were opened and their contents scattered, indicating
that they had been ransacked. Blood was spattered about the room. A
trail of it led to the bathroom where an attempt had been made by the
murderer to clean up. Tooth powder was spilled on the floor and wash
basin."

"Detectives
said there was ‘considerable evidence’ of a drinking party. Beer cans
and a whiskey bottle and glasses were found in the rubbish can and
sink."

Santa
Monica police obtained a confession from Charles by warning him that if
he didn’t admit killing Roberts, they would charge his mother.

"I went back to the motel and had a couple more drinks," Charles said
in confessing to the crime. "Roberts was still sleeping. The next thing
I knew I went out to get a shotgun from the car. Then all I can
remember is I saw blood on Roberts. I don’t actually remember any
shooting, but it must have been me.

"I respected Roberts more than my real father. Roberts and I were the
best of friends and I was all for his marrying my mother. The reason I
went with my mother was to protect her from Miles. He had broken her
nose once and I didn’t know what he would do when she told him she was
going to marry Roberts."

According to Santa Monica Police Detective Ward Bell, Charles said: "I don’t know why I did it. I was very fond of him."

According to Santa Monica Police Detective Robert Holborow, Charles
said: "I don’t understand why I killed him. It should have been
[William] Miles."

Because it doesn’t make much sense for anybody to kill someone they
respect rather than someone they dislike, Nina offered incriminating
testimony about her son:

According to Nina, Charles said: "Gee, mom, I’m sorry. I don’t know why
I did it." She also told reporters: "It all adds up. I know who did it.
But I can’t say. I think Sonny [her son] had something to do with it.
He’s all fouled up."

1957_0816_miles_pix
Charles’ father was granted permission to come to Los Angeles to handle
his son’s defense. After two days of arguments, the judge had ruled
that Charles’ coerced confession was inadmissible, but even so,
Detective Holborow testified that during a police interrogation,
Charles had admitted killing Roberts. The judge declared a mistrial.

In his second trial, Charles said he left the bar after arguing with
William because he was upset with his mother for continuing to see her
old boyfriend while she planned to marry Roberts.

"She would write on the mirror at Mr. Miles’ house, ‘I love you’ and
then she’d go up to Mr. Roberts’ place and write the same thing on the
mirror. It was a mess," Charles testified. William had repeatedly
rambled on about "teaching Roberts a lesson," Charles said, adding that
William claimed Roberts had also "tried to steal one of his former
wives."

Jurors found Charles guilty of involuntary manslaughter in December
1957. While conceding that his son would probably serve prison time,
Charles Guy Jr. said he hoped to gain custody of his son upon his
release and planned to take him back to North Carolina.

"That’s fine with me, Dad," Charles said. "That’s the day I’ll be looking forward to."

Although she was the main witness for the prosecution, Nina did not
attend the reading of the verdict against her son. She told reporters:
"I’m heartbroken. I know Sonny is guilty but I know he wasn’t in his
right mind. I don’t blame Sonny for what he said [about her] during the
trial. I know he had to do it."

In 1963, Paul Coates wrote about what Nina told him as he was covering the trials:

Before the case went to court, she told me a curious, rather chilling thing. 

"I’d like to help my son," she said, "But I can’t do it. I don’t dare."

I asked her what she meant.
 

"After it happened," she explained,
"I talked to my family in North Carolina. I was warned that if the
family name was dragged into the trial, I’d have my conscience to live
with for the rest of my life.
 

"I’m too afraid of my father to cross him," Mrs. Miles added. "Even if it would help my own son. It’s always been that way."

1957_prisoners_dream_02Coates also quoted a letter Charles had received from his father:

"God willing, you someday
will come home here. People will welcome you and you can make the kind
of name that when you marry will be carried proudly by your children,
just as I am proud that you carry my name. I will never be ashamed that
you are my son and that I named you after myself and your grandfather.
He said you would come back someday to the people who really love you.
And believe me, you will."

While he was being held at Vacaville, Charles recorded some songs. They
were released by Capitol Records on the album "The Prisoner’s Dream."

Time magazine said  he had the power "of a young, white Leadbelly."

Charles was released from prison in 1963 and returned to North Carolina. Aside from a single, he apparently never made any more recordings.
Long out of print, reissues of "The Prisoner’s Dream" are available from
specialty houses
.

Nina C. Miles, who attempted suicide in 1958, died May 2, 1977, at the age of 57.

The family name was presumably protected to her father’s satisfaction.

Email me

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Blues, Columnists, Homicide, Music, Paul Coates and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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