Murder, bigamy – historic trial in Vale had all the ingredients of classic film noir

A new book details the seedy circumstances of a murder plot and the woman who was convicted of planning the crime. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – In the early winter of 1947, Malheur County was fixated by a lurid crime story that seemingly had it all.





The story featured a cast of characters straight out of the Hollywood backlot.

A rich doctor and his beautiful trophy wife.

A young cowboy who just wanted to ride broncs and have a good time.

A murder on a lonely stretch of highway near Jordan Valley.

The case and the ensuing trial are the subjects of “Til Death Do us … A true crime story of bigamy and murder,” a book released last spring by Colorado author Patrick Gallagher. Gallagher, who grew up in Ontario, has a connection to the case: His grandfather – Patrick Joseph Gallagher – was the lead defense attorney in the three-week trial of Gladys Broadhurst, accused of plotting to kill her husband, W.D. Broadhurst, a wealthy chiropractor in the Caldwell, Idaho area.

“The story of this murder trial has been part of our family lore my whole life,” said Gallagher.

The central character of the story is 40-year-old Gladys, a dark-haired beauty with a shady past. Broadhurst was a romantic figure from Gladys’ past and when the marriage to her fifth husband – World War II veteran Leslie Lincoln – began to unravel she reached out to the Caldwell doctor. Gladys lied and told Broadhurst her husband died in the war. They began a long, romantic correspondence that culminated in their marriage in Reno, Nevada, in 1946 while she was still married to Lincoln.

 “When she married the doctor, she committed bigamy,” said Gallagher.

By all accounts Broadhurst was deeply in love. Gladys, though, was a compulsive liar and addicted to Nembutal, a barbiturate used as a short-term sedative to treat insomnia. Not long after the marriage, Gladys told Leslie Lincoln she was going to visit relatives and left their home in Sacramento. Instead she traveled to Caldwell to be with Broadhurst, moving in with the doctor and his nephew Floyd Adams, also a chiropractor.

By the time she reached Caldwell, Gladys’ addiction to Nembutal was severe and Broadhurst admitted her to a hospital to wean her off the drug. When Gladys emerged from the hospital, she and Broadhurst departed for his ranch in Jordan Valley for the hay harvest.

Marriage goes awry

Not long after the newlyweds reached the Jordan Valley ranch, Gladys told Broadhurst she needed to go back to California to clear up some legal matters regarding an inheritance from an aunt.

While the aunt was real, the aunt’s demise and the inheritance – several million dollars – were fiction. The real reason Gladys was compelled to return to California was to stop her husband, Lincoln, from revealing the bigamy.

With hay season in its final stage, Broadhurst told his wife he couldn’t go with her. Gladys did not drive so Broadhurst suggested that Alvin Williams, a 23-year-old cowhand that worked on his Jordan Valley ranch, drive her south.

That proved to be a bad idea.

 “The first night they left she started to seduce him. By the second night, they were checking into hotels as man and wife. Then she persuaded the young cowboy to murder the doctor,” said Gallagher.

The trip to California was supposed to last two weeks but instead stretched to seven. In September 1946, Gladys and Williams married in Reno.

According to Gallagher, Williams wasn’t eager to murder the doctor.

“Alvin was not at all keen on the idea, and he said so. The problem was that Gladys had Alvin completely spellbound and her persuasive powers in full gear,” Gallagher wrote.

Eventually, Gladys convinced Williams that Broadhurst was mistreating her physically. That was the key for Williams.

Gallagher wrote that “it was enough to overcome Alvin’s resistance to the plan.”

When Williams and Gladys returned to Caldwell, they kept quiet about their marriage. Gladys returned to her home with Broadhurst, with Williams in tow.

Williams stayed in the house with Gladys and Broadhurst and not long after Broadhurst changed his will and left his estate to Gladys in the event of his death.

Murder on the highway

The plan to kill Broadhurst centered on Williams ambushing the doctor as he drove to his ranch in Jordan Valley on Oct. 14, 1946.

Gladys bought Williams two quarts of whiskey and sent him south to wait about 14 miles north of Jordan Valley. Williams parked on the side of the road until Broadhurst drove up in his pickup pulling a horse trailer. As Broadhurst drove past, Williams waved him over.

Williams – who clutched a big Monkey wrench – told Broadhurst the gas line on his Model A Ford Coupe was clogged.

“I asked him if he had a pair of pliers,” Williams later testified.

Broadhurst grabbed a pair of pliers from his truck, came back and bent over the engine compartment. Bent over, Broadhurst didn’t see Williams pull back and bring the wrench down on the doctor’s skull.

“He dropped the pliers, throwed his hands to his head with both hands, and he kind of staggered around and he asked what hit him ….” Williams told police.

Williams walked to his car, grabbed a shirt, folded it and handed it to Broadhurst.

Then Broadhurst apparently realized what happened.

“He said, ‘God dam you, I am going to kill you,’” Williams told police.

Williams quickly reached into his car, pulled out a shotgun and shot Broadhurst in the chest, killing the Caldwell man.

He then drove the doctor’s truck off the road and out of sight. He unloaded the horse and, because he felt bad for the animal, lightly tied its reins to a nearby sagebrush. He discarded the shotgun and at nightfall buried the doctor’s body near Cow Creek Hill.

The Investigation

Once Broadhurst was reported missing police from Malheur County and Canyon County began a search that quickly turned into a criminal investigation. Malheur County Sheriff Charles Glenn and Canyon County Sheriff A.A. Moline collaborated because initially the lawmen were not sure if a crime occurred and, if so, whether it happened in Oregon or Idaho.

After interviewing the doctor’s nephew and his wife, police quickly began to suspect – with the help of eyewitness testimony – Williams was involved in Broadhurst’s disappearance.

Glenn brought Williams in for questioning at the Malheur County Courthouse two days after Broadhurst disappeared. A day later, as two Oregon State Police officers questioned Williams, he broke down and confessed to killing the doctor.

“He led them to where the body was. Alvin led to where he stuffed the shotgun in a gopher hole,” said Gallagher.

Meanwhile, Gladys forged a threatening note and claimed to police it was from her “dead” ex-husband’s twin brother as a way to shift suspicion away from Williams. She also convinced a friend of Williams – Rufus Lanphear – to provide an alibi.

Police interrogated Gladys in Vale and again in Canyon County but she admitted no wrong-doing. On Saturday, Oct. 19, Sheriff Moline arrested and jailed Gladys in Caldwell.

Late in the month, Gladys’ history of six previous marriages, including a union to Williams when she was still married to Broadhurst, was revealed.

Gladys selected Patrick Gallagher of Ontario as the lead attorney.

She was charged with accessory to first-degree murder. Williams was charged with first-degree murder.

Trial of the Century?

Gladys went to trial Feb. 24, 1947. Williams’ trial was to follow on March 10.

The Malheur Enterprise reported the trial began “in a hushed and breathless courtroom.”

The paper called special state prosecutor Blaine Hallock’s opening statement as a “skillfully woven pattern of alleged illicit relationships, schemes and devices,” where the state would prove “Gladys Broadhurst conceived, plotted, planned, and encouraged and assisted in the murder of her husband.”

The trial received a high degree of publicity – with papers in the state and across the West following events – and Malheur County District Attorney Charles Swan sought the death penalty.

Eventually Williams testified against Gladys and outlined the plan she created to kill her husband.

“The trial lasted about three weeks. The state did a great job investigating,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher’s grandfather was praised by at least one newspaper for his active defense of his client but in the end, it didn’t matter. Gladys was convicted of first-degree murder March 13, 1947 and sentenced to life in prison.

Williams’ case did not go to trial because he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was also sentenced to life in prison.

Gladys appealed her conviction through the court system and eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court, though, declined to review her case.

Neither Gladys or Williams served life in prison. Gladys was paroled after spending nine years in prison. She remarried eventually, moved to Sacramento and died in 1973.

Williams was paroled in 1957. He married in 1959 and died in 2010.

Love letters penned by Gladys to Broadhurst – while she was on her seven-week trip with Williams – form the “backbone” of his book said Gallagher. That Gladys continued to write love letters to her husband while she was sleeping with a 23-year-old cowhand still surprises Gallagher.

“What kind of person does that? What kind of person reads a letter from her husband that I love you and then hops into bed with another man and convinces him to murder her husband? I think she was clearly a sociopath,” said Gallagher. 

Gallagher said he “is not a writer by profession” but felt the story of Gladys and Williams was one that should be told.

“It took me four years off and on to write the book,” he said.

Williams, he said, was as much a victim of Gladys as Broadhurst. Gallagher said he lived in Ontario until he started high school when he moved to Seattle with his family. He said he still travels to eastern Oregon.

“I come back usually once or twice a year,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher said he is happy he was able to tell the story of the bizarre murder.

“There are a lot of interesting factors about this book,” he said.


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