The Murdering Widow
Fidelity was never one of Gladys Lincoln Broadhurst's better
qualities. She was still married to her fifth husband Lester Merle
Lincoln when she hatched a plan to snag Dr. Willis D. Broadburst,
a well-healed Caldwell, Idaho, physician and rancher, in the
summer of 1945.
had known Broadburst most of her life and was fully aware that he
had accumulated considerable wealth. The attractive, red-headed
woman came up with what she thought would be the ideal plan to
snag the good doctor. She concocted two stories -- one that her
aunt had died in Hawaii and left her some $3 million; the other
that she was a widow, being pursued by the identical twin brother
of her late husband, Lester, who had been killed overseas.
doctor, obviously captivated by her beauty and apparent sincerity,
fell for both stories. Early in 1946, he proposed marriage to
Broadburst and the two were wed in a simple ceremony in Reno,
Nev., in May, 1946.
the new Gladys Broadhurst was not through yet. She had fallen for
a young cowpoke, 23-year-old Alvin Lee Williams, who occasionally
worked on the Broadhurst ranch in Jordan Valley and who had become
a regular visitor at the ranch house during Dr. Broadhurst's
frequent absences from the ranch.
Less than four months after she and the doctor were married,
Gladys Broadhurst and her young cowboy were back in Reno, tying
yet another knot. Knot No. 7, to be precise.
two returned to the ranch a few days later where they concocted
another plan. This time, they would kill Dr. Broadhurst on a
lonely country road and make it look as if the evil deed was
committed by an unknown assailant. There was the doctor's $200,000
estate at stake. The pair followed Dr. Broadhurst's car along a
lonely country road into Malheur County on Oct. 14, 1946, where
Williams stopped the vehicle, slugged the physician over the head
with a heavy wrench and shot him with a shotgun.
Those were the key elements presented by prosecutors to a jury of
nine men and three women during Gladys Lincoln Broadhurst's murder
trial in Malheur County Circuit Court in February, 1947. During
the 16-day trial which was widely covered by newspapers from Vale
to Portland, special prosecutor Blaine Hallock portrayed Gladys
Broadhurst as a greedy, self-indulgent, scheming woman who had
mined the lives of two of her husbands and plotted the murder of a
Good investigative police work by Malheur County Sheriff Charles
W. Glenn and his Deputies turned up some damning evidence against
Gladys Broadhurst, including a note supposedly written by the
fictitious twin brother of her "deceased" fifth husband, Lester
Lincoln. The note, which prosecutor Hallock claimed was composed
by the defendant, said in part, "Your cowboy strongarm didn't do
it (kill Dr. Broadhurst), but don't start anything or I will get
you, same as I did DOCTOR. I warn you. I need cash."
note was signed "Sweet Pea" - purportedly the sinister twin
brother of Lester Lincoln. But Hallock introduced evidence during
the trial that the supposedly deceased Lester Lincoln was still
very much alive, that he had no twin brother, and in fact had no
brothers at all.
Gladys Broadhurst's defense went out the courtroom window when
Alvin Lee Williams took the witness stand and confessed to the
murder after telling the jury he and the defendant planned the
whole thing at the Broadhurst ranch near Jordan Valley.
jury took only three hours and 23 minutes to return a unanimous
verdict against Gladys Broadhurst on March 13, 1947: Guilty of
first-degree murder. But they asked the judge to be lenient. Judge
M.A. Biggs sentenced the 40-year-old defendant to life in prison.
Alvin Lee Williams also was sentenced to life imprisonment for the
murder of Willis Broadhurst.
Oregon Supreme Court in July, 1948, upheld Gladys Broadhurst's
conviction and life sentence.
1956, after serving nine years of her life sentence, Gladys
Broadhurst was paroled from the Oregon State Penitentiary.
50 at the time of her release.
Shortly after the end of the
Second World War, Doc Broadhurst was living near Caldwell, Idaho,
about 15 miles from the Oregon line. Things were going well for
the 51-year-old bachelor. He owned two large parcels of fine
northwest territory, had a net worth of about $200,000 and had
just renewed an old acquaintance with a woman from Burley, Idaho
whom he had known in the 1920s.
What their lives had been
like in the intervening years is unknown, but in 1942 Gladys
married a young Army lieutenant named Leslie Lincoln. The war had
ended and she was living in Taft, California when Gladys tracked
down her old friend W.D. Broadhurst from Burley.
The records don’t reveal
what Gladys asked Doc, but in August 1945, his sister recalled,
Doc replied in writing to one of Gladys’s letters, “In answer to
your question, I am not married; therefore I have no heirs and
Gladys apparently liked that
answer, and baited her trap. The two continued to correspond and
apparently met once in New Mexico. She set the trap on May 19,
1946, in Reno, when Gladys and Doc were married.
On the marriage license
Gladys admitted that she was married previously, but also stated
that Lt. Leslie Lincoln had died in England during the war.
She told her new husband
that she was in the process of inheriting $3 million from her Aunt
Mary from Hawaii, and that Leslie Lincoln’s evil twin, Lester, a
brutal psychopath, had taken his brother’s place and was trying to
get his hands on her inheritance.
Explaining that she had to
take care of the estate of her deceased aunt, Gladys sent Doc back
to the ranch in Idaho.
Shortly after he returned to
the ranch he wrote her a letter expressing his fear for her
“I bet you had another
mix-up with that brute. I want you to get out of that town,” Doc
wrote to his “wife.”
“Please honey, get away from
there . . . get away from all that fear . . . I want you to get
away as soon as possible, change address at postoffice… I wonder
if I could get Sacramento to deputize me this fall and I’ll get
that dirty brute.”
In fact, there was no
“Lester Lincoln.” Lt. Leslie Lincoln was alive and well and in the
process of obtaining a divorce from Gladys on the grounds of
extreme cruelty. A week after Gladys married Doc Broadhurst in
Reno, Lt. Lincoln learned of the ceremony and amended his
complaint to include bigamy.
The report of Lt. Lincoln’s
death wasn’t the only news that Gladys was greatly exaggerating:
Mary Johnson of Honolulu, Hawaii — Gladys’s aunt — was also quite
hale and hearty, and (unfortunately for her) had nothing
resembling an estate of $3 million.
During the late spring of
1946, Gladys became ill due to her addiction to nembutal, a
prescription sleeping pill. Doc Broadhurst brought her to the
Idaho ranch where she recovered. During her rehabilitation, Gladys
became acquainted with 23-year-old Alvin Williams, a gullible
ranch hand on Doc Broadhurst’s ranch who would play the final and
most important role in the black widow’s plan.
Williams and Doc were close
and each considered the other to be a friend. Over time, however,
Williams fell under the spell of the apparently attractive Gladys
In early August, the sheriff
of Canyon County, Idaho attempted — without Doc’s knowledge — to
serve Gladys with the amended divorce complaint from Leslie
Lincoln. Worried that this would unravel her carefuly woven web,
Gladys announced that she had to return to California to attend to
the administration of her aunt’s estate. She was unable to drive
and Doc was otherwise occupied, so he agreed, apparently somewhat
reluctantly the facts would later show, to her suggestion that
Williams serve as her chauffeur.
Gladys headed back to
California to take care of her obligations with Lincoln, taking
Williams with her, and over the course of the summer she
effectively sprang her trap.
Gladys and Williams left
Idaho on August 5, 1946 and spent the night of August 6 at the Big
Chief Auto Camp near Truckee, California. Up in the rarified air
of the High Sierras, Gladys asked Williams if she could kiss him.
He agreed. Much later, Williams testified about that kiss:
Q. What effect did that have
upon you, Mr. Williams?
A. That didn’t have much effect, but the next one did.
At the Big Chief Auto Camp,
Gladys and her chauffeur were assigned to different cabins, but in
the middle of the night, Gladys came to Al Williams and said she
was afraid to sleep alone. Williams agreed to sleep in her bed.
From that point on they were
lovers and Williams was doomed. After they watched the Lana
Turner-John Garfield version of The Postman Always Rings Twice,
Gladys reeled him in.
“It’s too bad that something
like that can’t happen to the doctor,” Gladys said. She pressed
him on whether he had any ideas about how they might accomplish
“I said no I hadn’t,” he
later testified. “I said, however, he might get lost while he was
hunting for cattle, and, well, she said if he did get lost he
would have to not never be found.”
Passing through Reno, Gladys
and Al Williams stopped long enough to get married, during which
time she used the alias “Elaine Hamilton.”
Gladys had hoped to wrap up
the divorce proceedings in a week or so, but things stretched out
over the summer. Doc Broadhurst visited his wife at the Big Chief
Auto Camp for three days in early September, returning to Idaho
without his wife.
She reassured her husband
that everything was above-board a few weeks later in letter:
“Darling Daddy Dearest,”
Gladys’s saccharine missive began. She reported that things were
going well and that Al was being a true gentleman.
“He has been very nice to
me,” she wrote. “I’m glad you chose him as he is honest and
To Williams, she portrayed
Doc as “more animal than man and that he was cruel to her,” and
she continually fed him a diet of lies and half-truths.
Williams was smitten by
Gladys and later admitted that he “would do pretty near anything
to get her.”
She convinced the young
cowboy that he was the love of her life and that when she won her
freedom from Doc they would have a public marriage and be
At one point during the
early fall of 1946, Williams suggested that they simply run off
together, and later said he considered simply disappearing
himself. But Gladys kept him primed with promises of sex and money
and images of Doc’s abuses.
The conspirators returned to
Caldwell, Idaho on September 22 and Gladys once again became Mrs.
Broadhurst. There was only one more item to be taken care of — the
Doc helped out a little in that regard. He was planning a hunting
trip in a few days and Gladys expressed concern that if something
should happen to him in the field, she would be left without any
means to “discharge the burial expenses.”
Three days after Gladys and
Al Williams returned, Doc Broadhurst executed a new will, giving
his entire estate to his “beloved wife, Gladys Elaine Broadhurst.”
Although the doctor was on
very good terms with all of his other relatives, and was allowing
his nephew (another doctor) and his wife to live at the ranch, Doc
curiously included this paragraph in his final will and testament:
I do not intend to give
anything from my said estate to any of my brothers or sisters or
to any of my other relatives. It is my desire that they shall
receive nothing from my estate.
Interestingly, one of the
men who witnessed Doc’s new will was the attorney who would
eventually represent Gladys in her criminal trial for Broadhurst’s
While Doc was hunting,
Williams managed to come down with a cold and Gladys insisted that
he recover in the Broadhursts’ bed and that she nurse him back to
health. Doc’s nephew and his wife considered that rather odd.
The lovers finalized their
plot during Doc’s absence and waited until the time was right to
put it into action.
The opportunity arose in
mid-October, when Dr. Broadhurst decided to travel from his
Caldwell property to his lands in the Jordan Valley. That trip
would require him to travel on the Oregon-Idaho-Nevada highway.
Williams decided to lie in
wait at a remote part of the highway, feign car trouble and then
flag down Doc Broadhurst as he drove by. Then he would kill him
and hide his body in one of the many arroyos that made up the
“She asked me if I couldn’t
wait along the road between Caldwell ranch and the Jordan Valley
ranch and have him stop and I was to hit him, knock him
unconscious and then destroy the body, move him away some place
where he would never be found, and after I had moved him, I was to
shoot him or plug him or anyway to make sure that he would never
be, that he would never come back,” he later told police.
The doctor’s disappearance
was to be explained by using the Lester Lincoln/evil twin story
Gladys had cooked up.
Williams purchased a green
Ford Model A coupe for $200 borrowed from Gladys to get him from
Caldwell to the Jordan Valley.
As the day for the murder
drew closer, Al Williams, however, was losing his nerve. Gladys
provided liquid courage.
“Well, I had told her that I
didn’t know whether I could go through with that or not, that I
couldn’t stand the sight of human blood and she asked me if whisky
would help me,” Williams told police. “I said yes, that whisky
would help settle my nerves and … so she went and …she got me some
October 13, 1946 was a
Sunday and Doc Broadhurst announced that he was planning to leave
early the next morning to go from Caldwell to the Jordan Valley.
Gladys stole away to warn
Williams that he had no time to lose.
“‘Get up there, be there
when he gets there,’” Williams swears Gladys told him. “‘For God’s
sake don’t miss.”
The reticent killer left the
Caldwell ranch that night about 11 p.m. and stopped at the Succor
Creek Junction and waited with a bedroll, shotgun, wrench and
quart of whisky.
At 6 a.m. he awoke and
lifted the hood of the Model A. He figured it would take Doc about
two hours to make the drive from Caldwell to Succor Creek
Junction. Unfortunately, Doc didn’t get the early start he wanted
and didn’t leave Caldwell until after lunch.
Meanwhile, another rancher
whose place was about 2 miles north of the junction happened by
about 8 a.m. and saw the green Model A and Williams. When he
passed by at 11, the scene had not changed. Finally, at 1 p.m. one
of the ranch hands stopped and asked if Williams needed
assistance. He declined their help.
Doc showed up about 3:30
p.m. and spotted Al Williams holding a large wrench by the side of
the road. As expected, he stopped and offered assistance.
Williams explained that the
fuel line had become clogged and as Doc peered over the engine, Al
said he heard Gladys’s voice urging him on.
“I tried to quit then, and I
seemed to hear a voice saying, ‘Don’t fail me! Don’t fail me! If
you do, for God sakes don’t come back,’ and I hit him,” Williams
The blow stunned Doc
Broadhurst who reeled around and felt a large gash on his head.
Half-conscious, he looked at Al and asked, “What hit me, Al?”
The forensic evidence and
Williams’s statement do not agree about what happened next.
Probably in the cold light of day Williams suffered remorse for
his evil deed and tried to mitigate what he had done, because he
later told police that he handed Doc his shirt to stop the
bleeding and had abandoned the plan to kill him. However, Doc
Broadhurst, realizing that Al had hit him with the wrench, came at
the younger man with a knife to defend himself and Al was forced
to use the shotgun to finish him off.
The wounds on Doc
Broadhurst’s corpse, however, indicate that he was hit three times
with the wrench and then slain by a shot to the chest with the
Regardless of whether Al
Williams had second thoughts after landing the first blow with the
wrench, by 4 p.m., Monday, October 14, Dr. W.D. Broadhurst was
Williams loaded Doc’s body
into the trunk of his car and dumped it “in a lonely gulch” after
He drove Doc’s pick up with
a horse trailer attached to a side road two or three miles away
and then rode the horse back to the Model A.
Then he released the horse
and went back to the Caldwell ranch. After a brief conversation
with Gladys, he left again, headed into the wilderness to dispose
of the shotgun and burned his bloody clothes.
Then Al Williams returned to
Caldwell and went to bed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
(always wanted to write that), Gladys had been laying the
groundwork to explain Doc’s disappearance. Abandoning the evil
twin plan, she told Dr. Adams and his wife (Broadhurst’s nephew)
that Doc had been arguing with a man in Caldwell named (you can’t
make this stuff up) Red Wells. She told them that she was afraid
Red would follow Doc and “do him some injury.”
Monday evening, Doc’s horse
turned up near the Succor Creek junction. The man who found it
called Gladys to report it. Gladys thanked him, expressed her
concern as well and hung up. She mentioned nothing to the Adams
until they asked.
The man who found the horse,
however, was not content to sit around. Early Tuesday morning, he
found the pick up and trailer and once again phoned Gladys.
Rather than participate in
the search, Gladys took an overdose of nembutal. The doctor who
treated her addiction earlier returned to examine her.
He found her “nervous and
seemed to be somewhat anxious or worried, and she was lamenting,
trying to tell me a story of Dr. Broadhurst being lost, a story
which was incoherent.”
By later Tuesday, Gladys had
apparently recovered somewhat but failed to join in the massive
search operation that had been launched. Curiously, neither did Al
Williams, who spent most of Tuesday repainting his Model A from
green to black and replacing its tires.
By Wednesday, Gladys and Al
realized that they had better participate in the search to allay
suspicion. Also by Wednesday, the sheriffs of the two counties
that constituted the Jordan Valley had been advised about the
strange green Model A Ford loitering at Succor Creek Junction.
Gladys told Mrs. Adams that
“she knew Al couldn’t have done it, because she knew where he was
every minute on Monday and she said anyway he isn’t strong
It was too little too late.
The conspirators’ actions before and after Doc’s disappearance
made them the prime suspects and by Wednesday afternoon, Al
Williams was in custody in Malheur County, Oregon. In his first
interview with authorities, Al told the story of Lt. Lincoln’s
evil twin stalking the Broadhursts.
While Al was cooling his
heels in the Malheur County jail, Gladys was still trying to do
damage control in Idaho. She told a neighbor that the Oregon
officials had arrested the wrong man and portrayed Al Williams as
Doc Broadhurst’s best friend. She blamed the killing on Lester
Lincoln and showed a photo of Leslie Lincoln, claiming he was
“I’ve have just been living
in hell for fear,” the neighbor recalled her saying. He took her
to the Canyon County sheriff in Idaho where she repeated the tale,
embellishing it with the imaginary threats “Lester” had made
against Doc Broadhurst.
Thursday morning, a note
appeared at the Caldwell ranch.
“Your cowboy strongarm
didn’t do it, but don’t start anything or I’ll get you same as I
did Doctor. I warned you and I need some cash. Sweet Pea.”
Gladys took the note to the
sheriff in Idaho. She then arranged for an attorney, Cleve Groome
(who witnessed Doc’s “will” earlier), to show up at the Caldwell
place about 4 p.m. The two of them left together and did not
return until 11:30 p.m.
During that time, they
picked up a young man named Rufus Lanphear and took him to the
Malheur County jail to meet with the sheriff. Rufus told the
sheriff that Williams had been with him all day on Monday.
Gladys didn’t know it, but
her attempt to find an alibi for Williams was futile. While she
and Groome were looking for Lanphear (who later recanted his
claim), Al Williams broke down and told the authorities the whole
sordid tale. He then led Sheriff Glenn and the Oregon district
attorney to the location of Doc’s body and to the location of the
murder weapon, which he had dropped into a gopher hole.
Gladys and Groome had been
forced to wait for the sheriff’s return from recovering the body
before she could present the fake alibi and her version of the
evil twin story.
When she was advised that
Williams had confessed, the record shows that Gladys “looked sad,
and had quite a stare in her eyes.”