A Hollywood Murder
It was a case fit for Hollywood, starring a murdered lover, an infatuated killer, a valiant lawyer, and the beauty that brought them all together again. It was the trial of Madalynne Obenchain, formerly Madalynne Connor of Fessenden. The case continued through today in 1922 as a third jury heard the trial of Madalynne’s fellow suspect Arthur Burch in the murder of John Belton Kennedy of Los Angeles. The trial attracted much attention, not only because of the nature of the crime, but because of the fact that Obenchain, Burch, Kennedy, and Madalynne’s ex-husband and future lawyer Ralph Obenchain had been college classmates—and all of the men had once been in love with the beautiful Madalynne.
On August 5, 1921, Kennedy, an insurance broker from Los Angeles, was shot in the head outside his bungalow in Beverly Glen, California. Madalynne, who was Kennedy’s alleged fiancé, was present, and ran for help following the murder, while the assassin escaped. The devastated Madalynne accompanied police back to the scene where she related what happened.
According to Madalynne, she and Kennedy had just returned from a drive at about ten p.m.. She said they were looking for a lucky penny she had buried outside the bungalow a year ago when a shotgun was fired. This first shot missed Kennedy and just before the second shot hit Kennedy in the back of the head, he cried out, “Good night, Madalynne.” Then, said Madalynne, two “tall, dark, and shabbily dressed men,” ran by her. Madalynne said she heard the men speak and they sounded strange and foreign. Madalynne ran to Kennedy and took his hand. “Belton, speak to me, for God’s sake. Speak to me,” she cried, and finding he was dead, ran to the police station for help.
Madalynne appeared as a victim of heartache following the crime until new evidence began to rise against her. Then, Madalynne’s story became confused, said police, and differed from the story of her friend and college classmate Arthur Burch, another suspect in the murder.
Burch had been in the city prior to the murder at Madalynne’s request, and was staying in a hotel opposite Kennedy’s office. Madalynne admitted beckoning Burch to Los Angeles, but only as a desire to have an old friend visit the city, though she denied ever visiting Burch in his room. Witnesses, however, identified Burch as the man who held the room, and also identified Madalynne as the “female cousin” who visited Burch.
Evidence grew stronger against Burch and Madalynne when the hotel proprietor said Burch had been anxious to get the room across from Kennedy’s office. The night of the murder, a woman visited Burch and peered out the window toward Kennedy’s office. The proprietor later saw Burch leave the hotel with a long package under his arm. Burch did not return until after midnight.
Just days later, Burch was arrested in Las Vegas. Again, more evidence was brought before him when Burch revealed in questioning that he had rented an automobile the night of Kennedy’s murder under the name J.W. Jones. The tires of the car were matched with tire marks on the road near Kennedy’s cottage. Burch was also identified as the motorist who drove the roadster seen near Kennedy’s the night of the murder. Another passing motorist saw the roadster later near Santa Monica Canyon where police believe the murderer had thrown the gun used in the murder, after a camper found the stock of a shotgun at that site. With this evidence stacked against Burch, it seemed the murder had definitely been solved, but now the police sought a motive, and this is where Madalynne came in, an issue to be continued in tomorrow’s Datebook as the trials wore on.
Written by Tessa Sandstrom
“Three College Classmates are chief figures in murder cases,” Fargo Forum. Aug. 8, 1921: 1.
“Mrs. Obenchain tells her story of shooting of Belton Kennedy,” Fargo Forum. Aug. 10, 1921: 1.
“Former Fessenden young lady being held as witness in connection with murder of rich San Francisco broker,” Wells County Free Press. Aug. 11, 1921: 2.
“Motive behind Kennedy murder is being sought by authorities,” Fargo Forum. Aug. 13, 1921: 2.
“Former Fessenden woman indicted for the killing of her purported sweetheart,” The Harvey Herald and Advertiser. Aug. 19, 1921: 1.
“Madelynn Obenchain and Burch indicted for murder. Hearing Postponed,” The Harvey Herald and Advertiser. Aug. 26, 1921: 1.
“Confession by Burch alleged by Los Angeles newspaper man,” Fargo Forum. Sept. 14, 1921: 1.
“Madalynne is first woman to take ‘Bridge of sighs’ to court,” Fargo Forum. Aug. 31, 1921.
Parrish, Michael. For the People: Inside the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, 1850-2000. Santa Monica: 2001.