Cuckolded husband almost vindicated
For The Madera Tribune
George Harlow’s prison photo.
Clara Orr was a child bride. She was only 15 when she married 26-year-old George Harlow in Eureka. He moved her to North Fork where he found a job with the San Joaquin Light & Power company, and within a year they had a little girl.
George Harlow was as strait-laced as they come. He took his responsibilities as a husband and father seriously. Clara, however, was a little less prim. It wasn’t long before she began to look for a little excitement in her life. She found it in those Saturday night dances in North Fork.
No one should have been surprised that this had all of the earmarks of a tragedy in the making. George worked at night for the power company, and Clara made friends with some young people who liked to kick up their heels on the weekends. One of these revelers was 19-year-old Howard Blanchard.
Clara didn’t try to hide the fact that she went dancing while George was at work; however, he didn’t like it. He reminded his wife that they had a little girl to raise, and running with the dance hall crowd just didn’t fit that profile. Besides that, he resented the fact that Blanchard was beginning to make frequent visits to his home. So irritating was the younger man’s presence that George began to insist that he stay away.
That’s the way things stood on the night of Oct. 24, 1922. George went to work, and Clara went dancing. In the early morning hours — about 4 a.m., George developed a headache and left work. When he got home he took off his jacket and went into the bedroom. There was Clara in bed, snuggled up with someone else, heads resting on the same pillow and sound asleep.
At first he thought it was some woman who had come home with his wife. Approaching the bed, he took the face in his hand, and then turning it over, he saw who it was, Howard Blanchard! Insane with rage, he went into another part of the house, got his shotgun, put a shell in it and went back to the sleeping porch where he had found the couple. Blanchard had fled the scene, and Clara was standing up. According to George’s own story as well as that of a witness who lived in a cabin next door, Harlow asked, “How long has this been going on?”
“For a long time,” answered his wife. “How do you like it?”
Harlow then raised his gun as if to shoot; his wife ran out of the house, and he ran after her. He got one shot off but missed. About 50 yards away, he caught her and hit her on the back of the head with the gun stock. The weapon broke as he continued to hit her, crushing her skull.
Harlow left Clara dead on the ground and went back to the house. Spotting Blanchard’s coat, hat, and vest, he went to the cupboard, got a butcher knife and ripped them to shreds in a fit of uncontrollable rage.
Harlow then went to the house of Elmer Gates, where he stayed until Sheriff Barnett and Constable Russell arrived and placed him under arrest. He made a full confession.
“It was like this, she seen that I was mad and I run her to where she is laying now, and I swung the gun around every which way. I do not know how many times I hit her, I just struck at her in the dark. I would not have killed her if I had not lost my temper, but it just made me insane.”
A coroner’s jury held an inquest that day and brought in a verdict of justifiable homicide, but Madera County’s district attorney would have nothing of it. He charged Howard with manslaughter and took him to trial.
The Superior Court jury disagreed with the coroner’s jury. Instead of “justifiable homicide,” it brought back a guilty verdict, and Howard was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin. He served half that time, from Feb. 25, 1923 to Feb. 10, 1928.
Bad boy Blanchard didn’t get away scot-free. He was arraigned before Justice Bennett and plead guilty to a charge of disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty, 90 days in the county jail.
So everybody had to pay something in this tragic drama. They took Blanchard to jail and Clara to the cemetery. For his part, Harlow went to prison, but he almost got off. That coroner jury’s verdict of justifiable homicide probably represented what most people thought fit the crime.