CRIME: Human Icicle

Monday, Nov. 13, 1944

Courtney Fred Rogers, 26, is a tall, bookish, satyr-faced church organist who lost his family, one by one. His old grandmother, 76, died suddenly. His mother, apparently a suicide, was found one morning with chloroform-soaked cotton over her face. Finally, one night three years ago, his father, in a drunken stupor, was burned to death when the Los Angeles house caught fire.

Courtney Rogers collected $2,300 insurance on the house, $1,000 on his father. But when he put in an insurance claim for $400 worth of jewelry which investigators found hidden away in a safety-deposit vault. Courtney Rogers suddenly aroused the interest of the police. Questioned, he calmly announced: "I started the fire that killed my father. . . . His drinking brought sorrow to my mother." After two more days of questioning, he smoothed his red hair and added: "I might as well tell you the whole story." He had killed his mother too. Said Courtney Rogers: "I had an Oedipus complex." No one was much surprised when he confessed that he had given his grandmother arsenic: "It was my first venture" (TIME, March 30, 1942).

A Los Angeles jury found Courtney Rogers guilty of murder. But while he waited for death, the California Supreme Court announced it was legally uncertain whether Courtney's mother & father might not have died, respectively, by self-inflicted chloroform and accident. Exhumed, grandmother's body contained no arsenic. Last week, at Courtney's third trial, the judge threw the case out of court. Courtney Rogers had repudiated all his admissions: "I told as many lies as I could to make them think I was insane."

While awaiting trial last week on the relatively minor charge of a $400 false claim for stolen jewelry, Courtney Rogers maintained the immense glacial calm which has baffled sheriffs, infuriated prosecutors, prompted reporters to call him the "human icicle" and caused six psychiatrists to split 3 to 3 on his sanity. To any one who would listen, he continued to give patronizing lectures on astrology, Buddhism, grammar, physiology, Bach, palmistry, contract bridge.

Emerging from court, Courtney Rogers remarked to his court-appointed attorney: "You're not such a hick lawyer after all."

Said long-suffering William B. Neely: "I don't think you're much of an authority on attorneys."