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Blog: The Killing of Catherine Elvins

Is another person's life worth a mere $160?
soule
antique iron

The murderer, Suzanne Elaine Soule, and the victim, Catherine Marie Elvins, were just 19 years old when their lives were ruined.

The July 26, 1957, edition of the San Mateo newspaper The Times gave the most complete coverage of the crime and its immediate aftermath.

Soule and Elvins shared a tiny apartment on Chula Vista Avenue in Burlingame. According to Soule, one morning, she was awake and getting ready for work when she noticed a check from Elvins's mother for $160. As Soule desperately needed money for college and to pay off bills from back East, she attacked Elvins with an iron and a kitchen knife until the young woman died.

But the murder and robbery were in vain. Soule attempted to cash the check at five banks in San Francisco. Each time, the banks turned her away, due to the check being from out of town and because Soule did not have an account with the bank. 

Authorities doubted this story and cited witnesses who had heard the two young women arguing into the early morning hours. And the two had argued frequently before. District Attorney Keith Sorenson said that this check robbery story was "a tough one to swallow…but everything seems to confirm it. We have nothing to the contrary at this point."

After failing to cash the check, Soule stated she told her sister and brother-in-law about the murder, and they called a priest and the police. The authorities arrived to find Soule hysterical and attended to by the priest.

Soule told police she had no initial plans for disposing of the body but later came up with the plan for stuffing the body into a trunk and storing it at Benkins Van and Storage on Broadway in Burlingame. But she couldn't get the body to fit into the chest, so she left it in the kitchen and then slept in the bed where the murder occurred.

Soule was questioned by the police, who could not get her to change her story from the stolen check tale.

A local psychiatrist gave a "tentative report" that Soule was sane.

The two women had always had a problematic relationship. They met at an Episcopal church in February and decided to move in together. Soule's boss proclaimed that she was a "fine, quiet, religious and upstanding girl," while Soule's defense attorney painted Elvins as having "certain unpleasant traits concerning her character or personality…(including) an irritating, high-pitched voice and (was) always bragging to Miss Soule about her money and her college education."

Money was a sore point. "(Soule) would get as many as three (collections) letters a day, while her roommate, instead of getting bills, was getting money from home… (Soule's) parents were just forwarding bills to her."

The local newspapers are silent about Soule's trial, verdict, and sentence. Still, we know that in Jan. 1958, the trial opened with the defense calling for a verdict of manslaughter because the crime was committed in a "heat of passion, although irrational passion…."


Douglas MacGowan

About the Author: Douglas MacGowan

Doug MacGowan has authored seven books and countless articles, mainly about history and true crime. He has been a resident of Redwood City since 2000.
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