Monday, January 21, 2019

Reanimating the Killer



Thora Chamberlain

The sad case of the vanished bobby-soxer
by Robert A. Waters

After school let out on that sun-drenched afternoon in November, 1945, hundreds of excited teens tromped toward the football stadium.  The Campbell (California) High School Buccaneers would soon be in action and school spirit was high.

Thomas H. McMonigle, 30, an ex-con from Illinois, trolled along in his car, watching. After a few minutes, he spotted his target—cute fourteen-year-old Thora Chamberlain. Walking on the sidewalk with several girlfriends, she wore her school colors: a red skirt and blue sweater, along with two pairs of bobby socks, a red and blue one on each foot.  In addition to her schoolbooks, Thora carried a cowbell.

McMonigle pulled up to the curb and motioned Thora over.  Rolling down the passenger window, he asked the girl if she’d like to baby-sit for him and his wife.  The fact that he was wearing military clothing (Navy grays with several medals, including a purple heart) may have made her less cautious than she normally would be.

Thora told him she was headed to the football game, and didn’t want to miss it.  He insisted that he’d pay her double, and it would only be for thirty minutes.  She’d be back in time for the game, he said.  Several classmates said they saw her get in the car and watched it drive away.  Before leaving, Thora called to a friend to “save me a seat.”

The teen was never seen again by anyone except her killer.

The FBI became involved in the search, and quickly honed in on the career criminal.  But by that time, McMonigle had fled.  He hitchhiked to his father’s home in Illinois, trailed by agents, staying a step ahead as he crisscrossed back and forth across the country.  The Feds finally caught up with him in San Francisco.

Thora’s classmates identified McMonigle as the man who had driven away with Thora, and he soon confessed.  He said he had shot her with a .32-caliber revolver, then driven her to “Devil’s Slide” in San Mateo County where he dropped her off a 300-foot cliff into the ocean.

The FBI and other agencies launched a massive search of the area, but never found Thora’s body.  However, they did locate her socks in a rock crevice about two-thirds of the way down the cliff.  The poignancy of that find came home to investigators when Thora’s parents identified the socks.  Their inconsolable grief touched the agents.

While digging up a construction site where McMonigle had sporadically worked, agents discovered Thora’s shoes, schoolbooks and papers, zipper binder, and cowbell.  They also located a .32-caliber pistol in the suspect’s luggage.  The Navy uniform McMonigle had worn during the abduction was also found, and proved to have been stolen from a former serviceman.

McMonigle made numerous confessions, all different.  For instance, he asserted that after Thora got in his car, he drove at breakneck speed, causing her to become frightened.  She jumped out, injuring herself.  McMonigle stated he picked her up, intending to take her to the hospital, but she died on the way.  He said he didn’t know what to do so he stopped and buried her.

Tall tales aside, and even though Thora’s body was never found, a jury convicted McMonigle and sentenced him to die in the gas chamber.

During his interviews with the FBI, McMonigle confessed to murdering Dorothy Rose Jones and burying her at Devil’s Slide.  Although he led agents to her grave, he was never tried for that crime.

Enter Dr. Robert Cornish, 42, a Berkley scientist and revivification “expert.”  The scientist informed reporters that McMonigle had contacted him, offering his body for “reanimation” after he was executed.

Cornish had made headlines, although in a negative way.  After trying unsuccessfully to resurrect humans, the UCLA scientist had gone to the dogs, literally five fox terriers.  Cornish named these animals Lazarus I, II, III, IV, and V.  Unlike the Biblical character, none fared well, even the last two, whom he succeeded in resuscitating after killing them.  When the public heard about the experiments on the innocent little terriers, they were horrified.  Cornish was summarily kicked out of his UCLA lab and sent packing.

Still, he continued his experiments.  He inferred that he had perfected his method, which was to inject the dead with a concoction of adrenalin, blood, and liver extract, then place the corpse on a teeterboard, rocking it back and forth to thoroughly mix the potion.  That, Cornish claimed, was the key to reanimation.

The mad scientist was sure he could bring the killer back to life.

McMonigle petitioned California authorities to allow the procedure, but officials denied his request due to concerns that the murderer would have to be freed if he succeeded in coming back to life.

During all this mess, the lost girl who just wanted to cheer on her high school team was rarely mentioned.

On the morning of February 20, 1948, McMonigle ate two hearty meals, smoked several cigars, joked with his guards, then was escorted to the gas chamber.  At about 10:13 A.M., a prison doctor pronounced the unrepentant child-killer dead.

Really dead, unlike the now pathetic, still-alive but invalid terrier zombies, Lazarus IV and V.    

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