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The events inside the home on Lindenwood Drive the night of Nov. 11, 1945, weren’t much in dispute.
Doris Lee “Pat” Bradshaw, 27, shot dead her husband George B. Bradshaw Jr., 32, in their bedroom.
Her motive, however, became the source of intrigue inside a Fort Worth courtroom in two criminal trials in 1946.
Was she a ruthless killer, a “pistol packing mama” who “reveled in the carnival of high living” and sought a financial death benefit, as prosecutors asserted? Or a woman who defended herself against an abusive husband, as she and her defense attorney, W.P. McLean, contended?
Twenty-four jurors in two criminal cases brought against Doris Bradshaw had trouble deciding, too, on the charge of murder with malice.
Doris and Army 1stLt. George Bradshaw married in 1940 in Arizona. They lived in San Diego, Dayton, Ohio, where he was an army airman during World World II, and in Fort Worth twice. The first time was in 1943, when he was an employee at Convair (now Lockheed Martin) and moved back in 1945.
The couple lived on Spanish Trail before moving into the house on Lindenwod. They had three children, including two Doris brought with her from a previous marriage, and a young boy, George III, the couple had together.
Doris assured the financial stability of the family through an inheritance handed down from her grandmother. George, the son of a U.S. Navy captain in WWI, had worked in advertising sales in San Diego and planned to open an office in Fort Worth as an industrial engineer, following the career path he established at Convair.
Court testimony suggested he liked to drink, and he wasn’t very good at it.
Sunday, Nov. 11 – Armistice Day — was a nice, cool fall day in Fort Worth. The temperature was in the low 50s, the skies overcast.
The city, like the rest of the country, continued to bask in the end of the war, while simultaneously repulsed on hearing of the horrors of what went on there.
In Fort Worth the day before, three young children were playing with toy guns when one found a real one in closet. A 3-year-old was sent in serious condition to St. Joseph Hospital after being shot by a .22-caliber rifle. At TCU, the board of trustees had approved the a $2 million building expansion on the campus.
On the night of the murder, George picked up a group of people and brought them back to the house on Lindenwood for a night of revelry.
The houseguests testified at trial that before they had left the house for a bar to continue the party, Doris had played a few selections on her accordion and that her husband had recorded them on a home-use unit.
She wasn’t rude to the guests, but when the group decided to pick up and leave, Doris didn’t want to go and didn’t want her husband to go, either.
According to testimony, Doris told her husband: “I’m sorry, dear. When you come home the door will be locked.”
Shortly after that encounter, Margaret Cobb Turner heard the couple argue in the bedroom. Turner entered the room and saw Doris with her husband’s .32-caliber pistol, which she had pulled out of the drawer of a telephone table, and had it pointed at him.
“‘My God, Pat, what are you doing?” Turner said. “Put that gun down. Don’t shoot your husband.’”
At the first trial, which ended in a mistrial, Doris said her husband told Turner that his wife “hasn’t got the guts” to pull the trigger.
She said that after telling him she would lock him out of the house if he left, he grabbed her arm and began twisting it, and shoved her into the bedroom and spun her across the room.
“He was coming at me with an insane look in his eye that I recognized,” Doris said as part of four hours on the stand. “All those experiences over the years came into my mind, and I knew he’d get me this time. I told him not to come any closer – I’d shoot.”
But “he leaned forward and his arms were out. He took a step toward me and I – I guess the gun went off. I was deathly afraid of him.”
At trial, Doris recounted a long period of mistreatment and two threats to take her life, including the day he was inducted into the Army. He flew into a rage, she said, because she had attended a dinner party. During that episode, she testified, he struck her and threatened her with a gun.
The defense brought witnesses to corroborate her testimony.
In a deposition, a former neighbor in California, Douglas A. Deeble, said Doris had come to their home one night hysterical and with two badly blackened eyes. After she had gone, George came by the house. He had a case a beer and was intoxicated, Deeble said.
During a couples trip to Nevada, Deeble’s wife testified in a deposition that Doris had come to her room “crying and nervous, and showed me marks on her neck.” Doris began to leave and return to San Diego, but changed her mind. When George woke the next morning he asked where his wife was. Mrs. Deeble said she had left and asked George “Why did you do it?”
“She bruises easily,” George said, according to Mrs. Deeble.
Mrs. Deeble also testified about another trip the couples took to Laguna Beach. Doris had left a café where the four had been drinking, saying she was sick. Mrs. Deeble later found Doris in bed in her hotel room with the “mark of a hand across her face, the fingers, I’d say.”
Evelyn Margaret Walt testified for the defense as well that day, recalling a day that George had “become very abusive” to Doris.
“In one instance he was twisting Mrs. Bradshaw’s arm. Cole [her husband] had to stop him. Mr. Cole had to knock Mr. Bradshaw out.”
The defense also brought to the stand Maj. William K. Beare of the Fort Worth Army Air Field, the autopsy surgeon, who testified that the bullet ranged straight downward and emerged on the right side below the bottom rib, indicating Bradshaw was “crouched and starting for her.”
Doris stayed in the marriage, she said, because of her love for her husband. In fact, in August of 1945, Doris had filed a petition for divorce, but she withdrew it the next day, records showed.
During cross-examination, prosecutors questioned Doris closely about a double indemnity clause in her husband’s life insurance policy, a question that caused her to snap: “I have enough to live on the rest of my life without any insurance policies.”
Prosecutors also zeroed in on the variances of her story. Though at trial she said the shooting was self-defense, she told newspaper reporters shortly after the incident that it was an accident.
She also initially explained to detectives that her husband had been teaching her how to operate the weapon and she was demonstrating her proficiency.
Doris “just didn’t need poor ol’ George around anymore,” prosecutor Al Clyde charged.
After her four hours on the stand and after the jury had been dismissed and a packed courthouse exited, Doris collapsed near the defense table. “I hope everyone gets a good look. I guess they think I’m an iron woman.”
That first trial in February 1945 ended in a 6-6 dead-end.
The state brought her back to court in June of the same year and in a one-day retrial won a conviction after a jury deliberation of 14 minutes.
McLean requested jurors assess the penalty at two years and recommend suspension. The D.A. agreed, telling jurors he believed a suspended sentence was the only way a jury would ever agree on a sentence.
The jury obliged.
The sentence was no consolation for Doris.
“No, it’s not,” she said. “My kids are still branded with a mother that was convicted.”
That evening, Doris was seen at a restaurant for a steak dinner.
“I was hungry and the steak is good. It wasn’t a celebration,” she said, adding that she was busy getting her two daughters ready for an approaching dance recital.
Later that month, Doris married for a fourth time, wedding Charles A. Kennan of Fort Worth. In July, she was denied a claim of payment on her husband’s army life insurance because “you were found guilty of causing his death.” Later, she was sued by an insurance company over a life insurance claim.
Instead, her son, George III, was the beneficiary on both claims in a settlement that left her “tickled to death.”