On April 11, 1947, Louise Peete took her final seat in the death house at California’s San Quentin State Prison.
Despite overwhelming evidence, comically unbelievable alibis, and the unmistakable fact of dead bodies piling up repeatedly in her wake, the convicted murderess and suspected serial killer that the press had nicknamed “Tiger Woman” proclaimed her innocence to her very last breath.
And, with that, Louise Peete became the second woman ever executed by gas in California, and one of only four total.
Born Lofie Louise Preslar in 1880 to a powerful newspaper family in Bienville, Louisiana, the future Tiger Woman once boasted that she “came from cultured, educated people, and [her] parents were not delinquents, and did not rear delinquent children.”
Nonetheless, Louise proved to be a hellraiser by age 15, when she got the boot from a fancy boarding school for stealing and promiscuity. For the next few years, she partied it up before marrying traveling salesman Henry Boesky in 1903.
After three years, Boesky shot himself to death, ostensibly after catching his wife in bed with a man who wasn’t him.
Liberated from wedlock, Louise earned big bucks as a high-end Shreveport prostitute, a profession she supplemented by stealing even bigger bucks from her clients.
When the heat came down in 1911, the 31-year-old Louise hightailed it up north to Boston, where she posed as a runaway teen — 19-year-old Dallas socialite R.H. Rosely — and charmed a local family into putting her up. She ran up their credit and robbed them senseless.
After fleeing to Waco, Texas, Louise got involved with oil magnate Joe Appel until she fatally shot him in the head. A grand jury, however, bought Louise’s claim that she acted in self-defense, as Appel had been attempting to rape her. The dead baron’s diamond jewelry that disappeared from the crime scene just never happened to be recovered.Related: “Black Widow” Stacey Castor, Who Killed Her Husband With Antifreeze, Dies Behind Bars
Moving next to Denver in 1915, Louise married salesman Richard Peete, from whom she took her final last name. The couple relocated to Los Angeles, where they fought nonstop for five years, until she cozied up to millionaire Jacob C. Denton.
In time, Louise moved into Denton’s 14-room English Tudor mansion, even though she remained married to Richard Peete. The peculiar situation turned alarming in 1920 after Denton inexplicably disappeared.
Shortly after Denton vanished, Louise had a gardener transport large mounds of dirt into the mansion’s basement, claiming she was planning to grow mushrooms. She also forged Denton’s signature on a series of checks. When a banker noticed the odd handwriting, Louise said she had to do it as Denton’s right arm had been amputated after he got shot by “a mysterious Spanish woman.”
Louise frantically spent Denton’s money and made up increasingly ludicrous explanations for his absence. The missing man’s adult daughter eventually hired investigators who found Denton dead and buried in the basement. Somebody had both strangled him and shot him in the head. Plus, his right arm was still attached.
Upon getting arrested, Louise tried to say that the corpse in the basement was not Jacob Denton, but a lookalike of his and, on top of that, she had no idea how it got there. Nonetheless, her first-degree murder trial commenced on January 21, 1921, and it ignited a media circus.
Crowds lined up outside the courthouse to glimpse the “Tiger Woman,” and William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers, inflamed by yellow journalism, beat every sensationalist drum imaginable surrounding the case.The jury returned a guilty verdict, and a judge sentenced Louise to life behind bars. She served 18 years as a model prisoner, and received parole in 1939. Along the way, Richard Peete, who remained faithful to her, committed suicide with a single shot to the skull.
After jail, Louise moved in with Jessie Marcy, a do-gooder who had campaigned for Peete’s release. Four years later, Marcy died of a heart attack.
From there, in 1943, Louise took a live-in caretaker gig with elderly couple Arthur and Margaret Logan. Arthur suffered from dementia and required much attention.
Around this time, Louise also met and married a banker named Lee Judson, never mentioning to him anything about murder or her 18 years in prison.
Then, on June 1, 1944, Margaret Logan disappeared. Three days later, Louise, posing as Arthur’s sister, had him committed to Patton State Hospital. Six months later, police dug up Margaret’s remains from under an avocado tree on the couple’s property. She had been shot in the head from behind.
Once in custody, Louise claimed that Arthur had attacked Margaret “in a homicidal frenzy.” Lee Judson also got arrested, but was released once the cops realized he was a patsy in all this. The next day, after Judson himself realized that, too, he jumped to his death from the ninth floor of a Los Angeles office building.Related: Former FBI Profiler Candice DeLong Explains Why It’s Never “Normal” When Women Kill
Throughout her second murder trial that began in April 1945, Louise Peete seemed to pay no attention. She casually thumbed through The Importance of Living, a book by Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang. Occasionally, Louise looked up to sneer or otherwise make a disparaging face at the prosecutors.
Once again, a guilty verdict came down, but this time the sentence was death. Louise Peete swore up and down that she didn’t do it. After about two years of failed appeals, though, the executioner did, in fact, do Louise in.
Main photo: Louise Peete in 1947 [California Department of Corrections]