Our local historian Keith Johnson looks back at shooting tragedy in Las Vegas involving a Preston woman...
In early May 1953 news reached Preston that local woman Mrs Alice White, aged 32, was being held for questioning by police in Las Vegas, Nevada, after the death of her husband Sergeant Andrew White, aged 29, an aircraft mechanic.
Mrs. White had called the police to their family quarters in the Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, where it was discovered he had been killed with a shotgun.
The couple had met in Preston soon after the war and got married in June 1949 at the Preston Registery Office, it being the bride’s second marriage.
Alice had worked for the Siemens Lamp Company in Preston and had
married her first husband Fred Wood at the age of 19. The marriage ending in
divorce seven years later.
After marrying Sgt. White the couple had lived for a few months at the Prince Arthur Hotel on Avenham Lane, the home of her great aunt.
Sgt. White was later posted to Germany, taking his bride with him, and she kept in touch with family back home, mainly through letters to her sister Margaret Woodacre, who was a nurse at the Preston Royal Infirmary.
After a couple of years abroad the couple, who by then had two children,
returned to Preston and lived in a house in Raglan Street for about 15 months.
When Sgt. White was posted back to the USA in 1952 his family went with him. Mrs. White, who was expecting a third child, had been taken into custody immediately after the reported incident and, following investigations, was charged with murder.
Attempts were made to allow her bail due to her pregnant condition, but it was refused.
Nonetheless she was allowed to hold a press conference from the Las Vegas gaol where she was being held. Despite her predicament she had no complaints about her treatment in prison and was happy to have had visits from her children.
The start of the murder trial was delayed until mid-September 1953, by which time Mrs. White had given birth to a third child, having been released from prison a month earlier to give birth.
At the trial Robert Begley, a USAF investigator, informed the court that Mrs. White had told him that her husband had been drinking and swaggering about their apartment with the shotgun, and that he had sat at the dining table with the gun propped up against him.
Various witnesses were called and it appeared that the defendant had become so frightened at her husband’s behaviour and frantic with worry that she had tried to get the gun from his grasp.
She claimed that in recent days her husband had beaten her and her two sons, and threatened her with a butcher’s knife.
Gripped by fear she had attempted to grab hold of the shotgun and as she did so it went off.
Following the flash of the shotgun her husband slumped forward after
being struck in the head by a bullet. In her defence it was claimed her actions were purely in self-defence and that she had no intention of killing Sgt. White.
The Las Vegas jury spent eight hours deliberating the evidence before returning a not guilty verdict.
There were cheers in court when the verdict was announced and Mrs. White sobbed as the judge told her she was free.
She then shook hands with each member of the
jury as they filed out of court.
Alice White’s ordeal was over and the news was greeted with relief by her family in Preston who sent a telegram bearing good
wishes. She expressed her intention to remain in America, describing it as a wonderful place.