Yesterday's Crimes: The Pit of Juvenile Depravity

Something wasn't right in the Anderson house just outside of Yuba City in Northern California on Sept. 13, 1946.

“We found fragments of flesh and bone and blood scattered about the bedroom and part of a charge fired from a shotgun in the wall,” Sutter County District Attorney Lloyd Hewitt told the San Francisco Examiner. “A crude attempt had been made to clean up the room and to burn the bedsheets and other things. An analysis has shown the blood was human blood.”

“There can be no doubt that someone was murdered in the Anderson home,” Hewitt added.

W.H. “Dick” Anderson, a 50-year-old ranch hand, and his young wife, Donnie, 26, were missing. The family's two cars were also gone.

[jump] Anderson's son from a previous marriage, Billy Anderson, 16, was nabbed way down south in the Mohave Desert for forging his dad's name to checks. One of the Anderson's autos broke down and was taken to a garage in Barstow. Billy tried to cash one of his dad's checks to pay for the repairs.

He was also running up motel bills. Billy was caught with 12-year-old Marilyn Hodge, a neighbor who had run away with him. The two had reportedly spent at least one night alone together while they were on the lam.

The second car was found in Kingman, Ariz. with Nathern James, 15, another kid from the neighborhood who had recently moved to Yuba City from Texas.

D.A. Hewitt and Sutter County Sheriff went down to Barstow to interrogate Billy Anderson. Anderson and James folded pretty quickly under questioning. Both boys confessed to murdering Billy's father and stepmom.

Hodge had nothing to do with the killing, and was picked up as the boys made their way out town. The boys also picked up another 12-year-old girl somewhere on the road.

According to both confessions, the boys waited outside the elder Andersons' bedroom window on Sunday, Sept. 8, 1946. James had a .22 caliber rifle that he had borrowed for rabbit hunting. Billy was armed with his dad's 12-gauge shotgun.

Inside the room, Donnie Anderson was rubbing her feet until her husband came in, and started yelling at her. Outside, the boys debated if they were going through with their planned double-homicide. The answer must've been yes, because James shot the stepmom in the head, hitting her just above the eye.

Donnie slumped to the floor. She cried, “Dick, help me up!”

When the father sprang off the bed to help his wife, Billy blasted him in the face with the shotgun. The father was dead when the boys entered the room. James shot the stepmom one more time to make sure she was as well.

The boys stuffed the bodies into the trunk of one of the cars and crossed two county lines to dump them. When the father was found in a shallow irrigation ditch off a Yolo County back road, “one side of his face had been blown away,” according to the Examiner.

The stepmom was discovered at the bottom of a 50-foot embankment in an isolated section of Butte County.

The boys, along with Marilyn Hodge, took off the next morning with plans to flee to Texas after Billy and Marilyn took a side trip to Mexico to get married.

James told authorities that Billy and Marilyn had been “in love for a long time.”

Authorities described the double murder as “an epic of juvenile depravity.” In D.A. Hewitt's eyes, the only apparent motive for the double murder was the desire of the two boys to run away from home “without being pursued.”

Billy Anderson had a different explanation for orchestrating his parents' murder.

In later testimony, he said that his father “got drunk a lot” and beat him. In the days before the murders, his father had drunkenly beaten him in the face and thrashed him with “a double-trouser belt.”

“The folks were so tough on me,” Billy said, “and my stepmother never did get along with me.”

The boys tried to enter insanity pleas during their trial, but the judge wasn't hearing it.

“It is the court's opinion that the two boys were able to determine right from wrong at the time of the crime,” Superior Court Judge Coats said. “It is the court's opinion that they are now neither mentally nor criminally insane.”

Anderson and James were found guilty of first-degree murder on Nov. 1, 1946, triggering automatic life sentences. The jury had only deliberated for an hour.

“Their age saved them from a mandatory death sentence,” according to the United Press.

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