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Prisoner's dream

August 16, 2007 |  8:43 am



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.

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