Excerpt for Murderess on the Loose: The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips (A Historical True Crime Short) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips

A Historical True Crime Short

By R. Barri Flowers


The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips

A Historical True Crime Short

Copyright 2018 by R. Barri Flowers

All rights reserved.

Cover Image Copyright Simon Gleeson, 2018

Used under license from

In memory of Mrs. Alberta Tremaine Meadows and other tragic victims of historical as well as present day crime and violence.

And to Michigan State University’s esteemed College of Social Science and School of Criminal Justice that gave me my start as a young and optimistic student and propelled me to a longtime and successful career as a literary criminologist and bestselling writer of narrative true crime books, criminology titles, and mystery and thriller fiction.

* * *


Dead at the Saddleworth Moor

Kids Who Commit Adult Crimes

Killers of the Lonely Hearts

Prostitution in the Digital Age

Mass Murder in the Sky

Masters of True Crime

Missing or Murdered

Murder at the Pencil Factory

Murder During the Chicago World’s Fair

Murder of the Banker’s Daughter

Murder of the Doctor’s Wife

Murders in the United States

Murder of a Star Quarterback

Serial Killer Couples

The Amityville Massacre

The Dreadful Acts of Jack the Ripper

The Dynamics of Murder

The Gold Special Train Robbery

The Pickaxe Killers

The Sex Slave Murders

The Sex Slave Murders 2

The Sex Slave Murders 3


Before He Kills Again: A Veronica Vasquez Thriller

Dark Streets of Whitechapel: A Jack the Ripper Mystery

Dead in Pukalani: An Eddie Naku Maui Mystery (Book 1)

Dead in Kihei: An Eddie Naku Maui Mystery (Book 2)

Deadly Defense: A Grace Gaynor Christian Mystery

Justice Served: A Barkley & Parker Mystery

Killer in The Woods

Murder in Maui: A Leila Kahana Mystery (Book 1)

Murder on Kaanapali Beach: A Leila Kahana Mystery (Book 2)

Murder of the Hula Dancers: A Leila Kahana Mystery (Book 3)

Persuasive Evidence: A Jordan La Fontaine Legal Thriller

State’s Evidence: A Beverly Mendoza Legal Thriller

* * *


“Must read for all true crime fans.” — Amazon reviewer on Serial Killers and Prostitutes

“Selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best books.” — John Raab, CEO/Publisher on The Sex Slave Murders

“A gripping account of the murders committed by husband-and-wife serial killers Gerald and Charlene Gallego.” — Gary C. King, true crime author on The Sex Slave Murders

“Vivid case studies of murder to complement this well researched criminology text.” — Scott Bonn, Ph.D., criminology professor on The Dynamics of Murder

“A model of exposition not to be missed by anyone interested in the annals of American criminal behavior.” — Jim Ingraham, Ph.D., professor emeritus of American Studies at Bryant University on The Pickaxe Killers

“R. Barri Flowers always relates an engrossing story.” — Robert Scott, true crime author on The Sex Slave Murders

“Striking, well-written tales sparkle in this ocean of murder.” — Diane Fanning, true crime author on Masters of True Crime

“Exhaustively researched, each storyteller brings their own unique prose to these pages, creating what will soon become a true crime classic.” — Kevin M. Sullivan, true crime author on Masters of True Crime

“This book should be a mandatory purchase and read for any true-crime buff.” — Steven A. Egger, Ph.D., associate professor on Masters of True Crime

“Incredible cases, psychopathic killers, unwitting victims, along with the very best writers, make for an exciting, no-holds-barred, soon-to-be true-crime classic.” — Dan Zupansky, host of True Murder on Masters of True Crime

“An indispensable sourcebook for anyone interested in American homicide, from law-enforcement professionals to armchair criminologists.” — Harold Schechter, true crime historian on The Dynamics of Murder

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Murderess on the Loose: The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips

The Dreadful Acts of Jack the Ripper – bonus excerpt

The Pickaxe Killers: Karla Faye Tucker & Daniel Garrett – bonus excerpt

Murder at the Pencil Factory: The Killing of Mary Phagan – bonus excerpt

Murder of the Doctor’s Wife: The 1867 Crimes of Bridget Durgan – bonus excerpt

Murder During the Chicago World’s Fair: The Killing of Little Emma Werner – bonus excerpt


About the Author


The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips

On the warm evening of Wednesday, July 12, 1922, Los Angeles, California, was the scene of a shocking and lethal assault. The victim was a twenty-one-year-old attractive widow named Alberta Meadows. Her death came as the result of a vicious hammer and boulder attack on a twisting dirt road at the bottom of a hill in the subdivision of Montecito Heights on the city’s northeast side. The violent act was perpetrated by a romantic rival named Clara Phillips, who lured the unsuspecting victim to the unlikely crime scene. The twenty-three-year-old murderesses’ actions were spurred on by jealous rage as Mrs. Meadows was the paramour of Clara’s husband, Armour Phillips, an oil stock salesman, three years her senior. The heinous crime was witnessed by Peggy Caffee, a friend, who was too frightened to lift a finger to stop the attack. Afterward, Clara and Peggy fled the murder scene in the victim’s brand-new Ford automobile. Surprisingly, the killer’s husband, Armour, came to her aid by ditching the vehicle and helping her escape from Los Angeles by train, before self-preservation kicked in and he reconsidered his own actions after the fact, alerting authorities as to her whereabouts, leading to an arrest. Clara Phillips was given the moniker “Tiger Woman” by the overzealous L.A. press of the day, after a police detective on the case suggested that Alberta Meadows looked like “she had been mauled by a tiger.”1 But Clara didn’t go away quietly; proving she was not only a cold-hearted killer, but a fabricator and clever escape artist before justice for the victim finally had a chance to be served in what proved to be one the 20th century’s most disturbing acts of homicidal violence.

* * *

During the 1920s, Los Angeles, California, was one of the most happening places in America and representative of the so-called Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age. These reflected an era of economic prosperity, a cultural and lifestyle shift, and technological advances. It was a time of speedy automobiles, aviation, motion pictures, telephones, speakeasies, bootleg liquor, new forms of dancing, jazz music, and uninhibited youth.

In the 1920s, the neighborhood in Los Angeles called Hollywood became the centerpiece of the film industry in the United States, recognized the world over. Other notable events during the decade in L.A. include the opening of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Los Angeles Central Library, the entrance of cartoonist Walt Disney, the first Academy Awards ceremony, the launching of Amelia Earhart’s career in aeronautics and throngs on hand to see aviator Charles Lindbergh, the opening of UCLA’s campus in the city’s Westwood neighborhood, and the population of L.A. surpassing the one million mark. The end of the decade marked the beginning of the Great Depression in Los Angeles and across the country.2

The 1920s L.A. saw its fair share of memorable crimes and criminals. This included serial killer Louise Peete, who was convicted of murdering Jacob Denton, a well-to-do mining engineer, in 1920 as one of her victims.3 Another serial killer, Gordon Stewart Northcott, kidnapped and murdered several boys between 1926 and 1928 in the city, in a case dubbed the “Wineville Chicken Coop Murders,” before Northcott was brought to justice.4

Equally disturbing during the decade was the brutal murder of twelve-year-old Marion Parker, a banker’s daughter, who was abducted from her junior high school in Los Angeles in late 1927 by teenage killer William Edward Hickman. Peete, Northcott, and Hickman would be executed for their crimes.5

The year of 1922 had a number of high profile murder cases occurring in Los Angeles. On February 1st, silent film actor and director William Desmond Taylor’s body was discovered in his bungalow in the city’s Westlake neighborhood. The forty-nine-year-old had been shot in the back with a .38-caliber pistol. In spite of many suspects inside and outside of the Hollywood community investigated by police or mentioned by the press, Taylor’s killer was never identified.6

On April 12th, Clyde Dayton, a pioneer in health food, and his wife Lulu were shot and burned fatally in their cabin on the couples’ 138-acre ranch in L.A.’s West Hills neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Dayton, sixty, and nicknamed the “Red-Ripe Honey-Man” and fifty-two-year-old Lulu were officially thought to be the victims of a murder-suicide, with Clyde the likely culprit in the killing of his wife, setting her ablaze, and turning the gun on himself. Some suggested that it may have been a double homicide committed by a local rancher for revenge or money, but no one was ever charged with the crime. The couple had been married for twelve years before the tragedy.7

On August 22nd, Fred William Oesterreich, a forty-four-year-old rich textile manufacturer, was shot to death in his home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of L.A. by Otto Sanhuber.8 The twenty-six-year-old Sanhuber had been having a long-term affair with Oesterreich’s forty-two-year-old wife, Walburga “Dolly” Oesterreich, who had unbelievably kept her lover hidden in the attic for a decade. Sanhuber emerged from his hiding place as the Oesterreichs quarreled, using a pistol to fatally wound his lover’s husband. Afterward, Walburga and Sanhuber tried to make it appear to be a burglary gone wrong. The lovers managed to keep their deadly pact a secret for years, before authorities learned the truth. Sanhuber was captured in what was dubbed by the press as the “Bat Man” case, on account of his attic living arrangement. Though he was found guilty of manslaughter, the statute of limitations had expired and Sanhuber was set free. Walburga Oesterreich was also charged for her role in the crime, with the trial resulting in a hung jury. As such, there was no justice for the widow’s late husband.

The death of Alberta Meadows on the evening of July 12th at the hands of Tiger Lady Clara Phillips was arguably one of the most scandalous murders to occur in Los Angeles during 1922 for its brazen nature and sheer brutality. Many decades later, the impact of the crime with respect to infidelity, jealousy, and homicidal vindictiveness continues to be felt to this day.

* * *

Born in 1899, Clara Phillips was just fourteen when she met and fell in love with Armour Lee Phillips, seventeen, running away from her home in Houston, Texas, to be with him. What was not to like about the nice looking, smooth, and ambitious young man for a girl who was longing for more out of life? Armour was equally smitten by the attractive and shapely brunette-haired Clara with a thousand-watt smile. It seemed a match made in heaven and started out that way as the couple married, making their home in Los Angeles. Armour found success and wealth as an oil stock salesman, employed by Sun Oil Company. Clara found some success of her own as a chorus girl and movie extra, before retiring to devote herself to being a pampered wife, living the life of luxury in an elegant house on West Fifty-Third Street in an affluent section of the city, complete with maids and the finest in housewares and furnishings.

As far as Clara was concerned, life could not be better. The life given to her by Armour was certainly far better than her days living in Houston. The idea of ever giving it up easily likely never crossed her mind. On the contrary, it was now in her blood and she aimed to hold onto her man and his world of wealth, through thick and thin.

Unfortunately, Armour began to have money problems, as his credit and professional life with an oil company both took a hit, threatening to unravel the good life he’d made for himself and Clara. He also had a wandering eye and perhaps had grown bored with his young wife, in spite of the still present qualities that had attracted him to her in the first place. By 1922, he had seemingly found a solution to at least one of his issues, as Armour set his sights on a striking twenty-one-year-old bank clerk and widow named Alberta Tremaine Meadows. Her husband, Jesse Meadows, had been killed the previous year in an accident involving a Pacific Electric trolley.9

Though Armour was forced to admit to Clara that they were struggling financially and needed to downsize their lifestyle, he ignored this when it came to wooing his new romantic interest Alberta, buying her such expensive gifts as an automobile. At the same time, he began to pull away from his wife, while somehow believing she would hardly notice.

But Clara could not help but notice when her husband started spending more and more evenings elsewhere and otherwise seemed distant, arousing her suspicions. It didn’t take much for her to put two and two together. But she needed to be sure. She listened in on Armour’s late night phone calls and took cabs to follow him wherever he went. This went on for weeks before Clara was able to confirm conclusively in her mind what she knew to be true. Her husband was having an affair. His lover was a lovely young woman named Alberta Meadows.

Needless to say, Clara was furious that Armour had turned to another woman and was more than willing to shower her with gifts that came at Clara’s expense. It was something she was unwilling to let stand. Not over her dead body. But the other woman’s body might be a different thing altogether.

Clara needed someone to air her frustrations to. She chose her friend, Peggy Caffee. The two had met when they were both showgirls. Peggy was married to M. D. Caffee, an oil worker in Long Beach, California, in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The two women got together at a Long Beach speakeasy, where they commiserated over drinks as Clara told about her adulterous husband and his mistress. It might have ended there. But it did not.

On Tuesday, July 11, 1922, Peggy accompanied a still embittered Clara to a five-and-dime store, where Clara purchased a claw hammer for 15 cents.

The following late afternoon of Wednesday, July 12th, Clara and Peggy waited in the parking lot of the downtown bank in Los Angeles where Alberta Meadows worked to confront her about the affair with Clara’s husband. When Alberta emerged from the bank and headed toward her car, she was approached by the two women.

Though startled, Alberta was not unaware of who Clara Phillips was, having come face to face with her lover’s wife once before momentarily. As it had not erupted into violence, Alberta likely found no reason to fear Clara when she asked Alberta to drive her and Peggy to the home of Clara’s sister, Etta Mae Jackson, in Montecito Heights. Alberta agreed; a move she would dearly regret.

The drive started out pleasantly enough as Clara hid her true intentions, giving Alberta a false sense of security, and undoubtedly misleading Peggy as well as to how the journey would end. Once they were atop a hill on a desolate spot on Montecito Drive, Clara ordered that Alberta stop the car, indicating the two of them needed to talk.

Complying with her wish, Alberta pulled over. Both women got out of the car, confronting each other, as Peggy left the car too and stood off to the side. Clara angrily accused Alberta of having an affair with her husband, which she denied.

Believing the denial to be false made Clara even angrier. In a fit of rage and revenge, she removed from her purse the claw hammer she had purchased the day before and began pounding Alberta with it. Though stunned and injured, Alberta managed to run down the hill, away from her attacker.

Frightened to death, Alberta screamed for Peggy to help as Clara pursued her husband’s lover. Though Peggy made a feeble attempt to intervene, any such thoughts left her after Clara threatened to retaliate by going after her next.

A weakened Alberta was unable to get away from Clara, who easily caught up to her and resumed pummeling her with the hammer, striking over and over again on Alberta’s face and head, leaving the victim bloodied and battered beyond belief. But even that was not enough to quell the perpetrator’s thirst for vengeance. Afterward, Clara managed to roll a fifty-pound boulder down the hill and onto Alberta’s broken body.

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