Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
Nov. 16, 1907
Mrs. Amanda Cook (she is also identified as Jennie and Mary) came to Los Angeles from Boston in 1906 with two of her children in search of her husband, Frederick, a union plasterer and bricklayer. She advertised in the newspapers without success and finally took a job as a cook at the Juvenile Detention Home.
Persuaded by her cousin to seek a divorce, she hired attorney George W. MacKnight, who sought out her errant husband and began divorce proceedings.
One day, after being threatened with divorce, Frederick appeared at the juvenile home and upon seeing his wife, said: “What the hell did you come out here for? Why didn’t you stay with your folks in Boston?”
At his office, MacKnight attempted a reconciliation. When asked if he thought he should support his children, Frederick said: “Yes, but I blow in my money with the boys and cannot save a dollar for the kids.”
Frederick said he didn’t want to get a divorce, so MacKnight asked Amanda if she would take her husband back. “Fred, you know I’ll do that in a minute,” she said. Frederick agreed to rent a house for them as long as MacKnight dropped the case—but the lawyer refused until Frederick made good on his promise.
As soon as the Cooks got into the hallway, Frederick said: “Do you think I’m going to be damn fool enough to support you and those kids?”
His wife replied: “Oh, Fred, you don’t mean that. Why, you just promised to take us back and get a little house for us all together.”
“Well,” Frederick replied, “if you don’t make the lawyer of yours dismiss this case I’ll kill you and him and the judge, too, and if the bum police ever catch me, I’ll kill myself.”
Amanda got a divorce, telling her lawyer: “I’m not afraid of him because he has threatened to cut my throat or blow out my brains a thousand times.”
Frederick began plotting to kill her. His first idea was to murder her at juvenile hall by shooting through a hole he cut in a screen, but he fled after being caught putting a pistol in the opening.
The next idea was far more cunning. A champion roller-skater, Frederick went to a hairdresser on South Broadway, where he bought a false mustache and had his hair dyed, explaining that he was so well known in roller contests that he was prevented from entering.
On Aug. 27, 1906, he found Amanda on the fast streetcar from Santa Monica, sat next to her and shot her in the forehead, then stood up and shot her twice more. Several passengers grappled with him and got the gun, but Frederick swung free of the moving streetcar “near the Hammel and Denker ranch,” The Times said, and escaped.
Amanda’s bloody body was left between the seats as the car completed its rounds, slowly sliding down until “only the pathetic, shabby little shoes stuck out into the aisle to haunt those who made that terrible ride,” The Times said.
Frederick surrendered a year later in Fort Worth, Texas, claiming the shooting was authorized by “unwritten law” because he caught his wife with another man.
In 1908, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at San Quentin. As for the Cooks’ three children (an older child had been left with relatives in Boston) no record can be found.
Why wouldn’t he just take the divorce? What a hellish human being.
In the 1900s, divorces could be quite difficult to get; judges often denied them.
Later on, there had to be some sort of cruelty claim, and newspapers in the 1940s published stories about abusive spouses who “played the saxophone all the time.” Hence the heavy traffic to Nevada, as portrayed in “The Misfits,” “Peach-a-Reno” and “Desert Hearts.” Newspapers of this era are full of stories about women, unable to get a divorce, suffering horrible domestic violence from a drunk and abusive husband. A man getting drunk on the way home from work and beating his wife was horribly common — there is a reason Prohibition existed.