Strange Slaying Case at Last Confessed
There should come a time in a reporter's life when there's nothing left to shock him -- when he's witnessed enough of the stark drama of human behavior to build up an immunity to it.
But it doesn't quite happen.
Like today -- the arraignment of Frank G. Watson, a 32-year-old truck-driver, on the charge of murder.
Watson was booked over the weekend for a killing which took place five years ago. Neither the victim's family nor the police were aware that the victim, William Freyer, an electrician, was dead.
But that was just one of the startling revelations of the case.
Most bizarre of all was the fact that the dead man's wife, Laberta, married her husband's killer one and a half years later, fully aware of the crime -- and then last week, after three and a half more years of silence, blurted the story out to disbelieving sheriff's officers for no apparent reason at all.
Yesterday I talked with Mrs. Laberta Freyer Watson, key figure in the mystery. And as our conversation progressed, some of the pieces of the strange puzzle fell into place. Some. Not all. Just some.
Mrs. Watson is a frail brunet who looks tired for her 26 years.
"I love my husband," she told me. "He loves me. I can't tell you exactly why I turned him in, except that it seemed the right thing to do.
"We were separated and he came up to Northern California where I was living. He wanted to bring me back here, to Los Angeles. I told him, 'If you take me there I'll turn you in. I'll turn both of us in.'
"He said, 'I hope to God you do. I haven't got the nerve to do it myself.'
"So, when we arrived here, I called the police and told them."
That part of the story came easy to Laberta Watson. But the past -- the events that led up to the killing -- came in words interspersed with tears.
She was 17 when she married Bill Freyer, she told me. He was 10 years older than she was, and he drank. And when he drank, he beat her. That was back in Illinois.
The police came lots of times, she added, and once her husband was sent to a state mental hospital after a particularly vicious beating.
"One time he threw my baby across the room. I though he killed her. Another time I lost a baby I was carrying after he beat me."
Bill Freyer and his child bride moved west, but in Las Vegas she scooped up her infant daughter and fled him. She came to California. She met Frank Watson and when her husband followed her and found her and beat her up some more, Frank became her protector.
"I kept changing jobs and moving and moving and moving. One time he broke into my house in Monrovia, slashed up everything with a long knife and then beat up me and my daughter. He said he was going to kill me and I think he would have if Frank hadn't come by and saved my life."
It was a few months later, after she'd moved again -- this time to Monterey Park -- that Frank informed her that her husband was back in California, looking for her. He'd run into him in a bar.
As Laberta Watson related what happened, her handkerchief was busy again.
"I told Frank that I was tired of running, not knowing if I was going to live or die. I told him that if Bill found me again I'd get a gun and kill him.
"He said, 'No. You're too good. You're too sweet.'
"Then a couple of days later, Frank came by my house and said, 'Get your coat.' That's all he said.
'He Can't Kill You Now'
"I got in the car and he told me, 'Your husband can't hurt you any more. He can't kill you now.' Then he drove me to where the body was."
Then, according to Mrs. Watson, she helped Frank lift the body into the trunk of his car and went with him to the desert, where he buried it.
More than a year later, in 1955, Frank Watson and the widow Freyer were married. He formally adopted the daughter of the man he killed.
Outwardly, they were a very happy family. But for the frail Illinois farm-girl the terror never subsided. It just transferred itself from a living man to a haunting secret.