It was about 1:30 a.m. on August 15, 1933, when 44-year-old Dr. James I. Gaines, driving one of the two Cadillacs he owned, pulled into his driveway, returning to his Spokane home after an eight-and-a-half-hour break from his medical practice and his marriage.
He had left the house at 5 p.m., telling his wife, Lily, that he was going to Lake Coeur d'Alene, 30 miles away, in Idaho, to see if repairs had been made on his speedboat. He wouldn't be going alone, though he didn't tell his wife that he intended to take his latest girl friend, Mrs. Harriette Andrew.
As things turned out, Mrs. Andrew declined his invitation, though she didn't mind, she later told police, that her 17-year-old sister, Mildred Trask, accompanied Dr. Gaines to the lake for a boat ride. Dr. Gaines had only known Mrs. Andrew about a month, but he wasted no time establishing a promising relationship, and already was paying the rent on her apartment. Soon after meeting Dr. Gaines, Mrs. Andrew filed for divorce from her husband, John, whom she married in 1924 when she was about 16 years old.
Dr. Gaines may not have broadcast his affairs to his wife — who would later deny she knew anything about Harriette Andrew — but he felt free to live the life of a bachelor because a few weeks earlier his wife had signed an agreement to that effect, an agreement that would expire at the end of the year.
Mrs. Gaines would later claim she didn't fully understand the document she had signed, but police believed she knew full well that Dr. Gaines wanted to end their marriage. This run-around-free document was perhaps the strangest thing in the weird story that would be revealed one chapter at a time in the days after Dr. Gaines returned home in the very early hours of August 15 and stepped out of his Cadillac.
He never made it into his house. Someone waiting in the shadows shot him three times with a .38 caliber revolver. The next door neighbors, the Callisons, a family of four, all heard the shots, though Mr. Callison was slower to respond than his wife and two grown daughters. Mrs. Callison also heard an automobile pull away from in front of the Gaines home seconds after the third shot. Mrs. Callison and her two daughters also heard a woman's scream.
Soon afterward there was a knock on their back door — it was Mrs. Lily Gaines, in her bathrobe, who said her husband had been shot. She also said she had already called the police. Mrs. Callison went with Mrs. Gaines to see if there was anything they could do for Dr. Gaines, who was still alive, but barely. He died moments later.
Except that he had been twice married, Dr. James I. Gaines had much in common with the woman-chasing Pasadena dentist, Dr. Leonard Siever, who also was mysteriously killed in 1933. Like Dr. Siever, Dr. Gaines had mostly female patients. He hired attractive women to work in his office; indeed, he married one of them, Lily Banka, who soon would be charged with his murder.
Dr. Gaines was wealthy, but not super rich. He also was controversial, a so-called sanipractor, a physician who did not use or prescribe drugs. The Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that police had long questioned the legitimacy of Dr. Gaines' practice, but no charges against him had ever been proven in court. He was arrested in 1932 when a man brought charges against the doctor for performing an illegal operation on his wife, but Dr. Gaines was not convicted.
It would be mentioned during the trial of Mrs. Lily Gaines that her husband was suspected of performing abortions, and while this was bound to create enemies — such as the man who complained in 1932 — police concentrated on making a case against his widow, almost from day one.
What drove — and frustrated — investigators was the certainty Dr. Gaines had been killed with his own Smith & Wessen .38 caliber revolver, an "Outdoorsman" model, that he had purchased a few weeks earlier.
Dr. Gaines was described as a gun enthusiast who had taught his second wife to shoot. Police also had the impression Lily Banka Gaines was an excellent marksman, though this may have been based on a notation in her diary that on one particular day she had outshot her husband at the range he used. In any event, Mrs. Gaines' familiarity with the murder weapon made her a logical suspect. Also police believed she had a motive — to collect as much money from her husband as she could before he divorced her. (Whether Dr. Gaines actually intended to divorce his wife would never be conclusively established.)
After a three-week investigation, police were convinced enough of her guilt that she was arrested. By then they had an explanation for why the gun hadn't been found, though it was this explanation that would play into the hands of the defense attorney hired by Mrs. Gaines.
What followed was a classic example of attempting to build a case on circumstantial evidence. Such cases often are successful, but this one was bungled from the start.
There may have been some confusion about the relationship between Dr. James I. Gaines and Lily Banka, thanks to the way newspapers reported the contents of the doctor's will on August 22. He left the house, all household goods, her choice of his two Cadillacs, all jewelry and most of his sporting equipment to Lily H. Banka, using her maiden name.
The will, the Spokane Daily Chronicle pointed out, was signed by Dr. Gaines on November 8, 1929, nearly three years before he and Lily were married. What wasn't made clear was that his first wife, Pearl, had left him in 1929. Dr. Gaines finally won a divorce in 1932 on grounds of desertion.
But it was soon after his first wife left for Seattle that Lily Banka moved in with her employer. The 1930 United States census lists them as James and Lily Gaines, man and wife, although this wouldn't legally be true until August, 1932, a few days after his divorce was settled.
It was Willis Garrett who convinced police and prosecutors they had enough evidence to try Mrs. Gaines. And it almost certainly was Willis Garrett and the way he was handled by the prosecution that would be most instrumental in setting Mrs. Gaines free.
Before he was done testifying, Garrett would tell at least three different stories — (1) that Mrs. Gaines had offered him $5,000 to kill her husband, (2) that she had offered the money only for him to knock out her husband, put him in his car "and I'll do the rest," Garrett quoted her as saying, and (3) that his suicide attempt in early September, the event that brought him to the attention of the police, was staged only to get Mrs. Garrett to go along with his plan to claim a $500 reward offered for information on the Gaines case.
Police had reason to believe there was a connection between Lily Gaines and the Garretts because there was no question that they had known each other for several years, though if any friendship existed, it was between the two women.
On September 7, the day after Mrs. Gaines was arrested and Garrett's story had been made public, Spokane Police Chief Ira Martin said his officers were still searching for at least one accomplice in the murder — the driver of the car that sped away from the Gaines home immediately after the shooting. Chief Martin said the driver of that car was "the missing link in the case."
He was correct, of course. Trouble was, that driver was never found. Garrett should have been a prime suspect, but he was never charged, something that significantly weakened the case against Mrs. Gaines. The police believed she had a partner, but only for the purpose of fleeing with the gun and disposing of it.
In reconstructing the crime at the Gaines home, police determined, from the angle of the bullets as they struck the doctor, that the shots were fired "by a small person who held the gun about three feet above the ground." Detective Arthur Aikman added that the shooting was done at close range, "probably no more than five or six feet."
About the only people who'd hold a revolver three feet above the ground are children and the Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz." Police seemed to discount the possibility of a tall man kneeling just off the edge of the driveway on the driver's side.
The prosecution dismissed statements of witnesses who had seen a car with perhaps two occupants parked near Dr. Gaines' Cadillac at Lake Coeur d'Alene that evening. At least one witness saw a window of that Cadillac rolled down, and seconds later the mystery car drove away.
The defense believed Dr. Gaines was followed to the lake and that the men who did it reached into the doctor's car and stole his gun while he was out on the lake in his speed boat. One witness also reported that sometime during their visit, Dr. Gaines and Mildred Trask had a loud argument near the dock where the boat was tied.
(What apparently wasn't established by the defense is whether Dr. Gaines was in the habit of carrying his gun or keeping it in his car. If either were the case, then his wife would have had no access to it. She had accounted for her own whereabouts that evening; she never left Spokane.)
Prosecutor Louis Bunge also may have found himself trapped by the strange circumstances of the Gaines marriage. Mrs. Gaines insisted she loved her husband and that they had a good relationship. Even some witnesses for the prosecution said Mr. and Mrs. Gaines always seemed like a happy couple.
Bunge, however, harped on that agreement Mrs. Gaines had signed, and on the fact they also had a pre-nuptial agreement that would leave her with nothing should her husband divorce her (though what grounds he would have were never mentioned).
Jurors are only human, and it's likely that by the time Bunge got through describing the defendant's marriage, they had come to dislike the philandering abortion doctor as much as whoever pulled the trigger.
While this shouldn't have been a factor, it could also be the jury sided with Mrs. Gaines because they liked her chief attorney, Edward W. Robertson, much more than they did the prosecution's team. When Robertson began the defense side of the case, he promised to be quick about it. One, he felt it was obvious the state hadn't made its case, and, two, he wanted the trial to be finished in time for jurors to celebrate Thanksgiving at home on November 30.
New York Sun, August 18, 1933
SPOKANE, Washington (AP) — Detectives turned today to a microscope in their search for clues in the slaying of Dr. James I. Gaines, prosperous physician and sportsman.
Baffled by a maize of trails that led almost invariably to women, investigators called in Lawrence Albert, a ballistics expert, in the hope he could find in the three .38 caliber bullets taken from Dr. Gaines’s body a clue which would lead to the weapon from which they were fired, and to the person who held it.
Dr. Gaines was killed in the driveway of his home early last Tuesday as he stepped from his automobile a few minutes after he left the apartment of a young woman friend.
Working on the theory Dr. Gaines might have been killed with his own pistol, which was missing from his home, Albert obtained bullets known to have been fired from the firearm for comparison with those found in the body.
Amsterdam Evening Record, September 6, 1933
SPOKANE, Washington (AP) — Mrs. Lily Banka Gaines, 27, today was in jail accused of the murder of her husband, Dr. James I. Gaines, 41, wealthy sportsman and drugless physician.
Mrs. Gaines had been questioned frequently and detained once since her husband was shot as he stepped from his automobile in the driveway of his home August 15.
On Sunday, Willis B. Garrett, 40, a railroad worker, was found unconscious by police in a gas-filled room in his home. He told detectives Mrs. Gaines had offered him $5,000 to kill her husband, but that he declined.
Mrs. Gaines confronted by her accuser at police headquarters, shouted, “I don’t know anything about it.”
The woman was formerly her husband’s office girl. She is the beneficiary of insurance policies totaling $48,000 and was given the home, a costly automobile and other property by Gaines’ will. However, police said Gaines had considered seeking a divorce.
Detective Captain James McCarry quoted Garrett as saying he attempted to kill himself after he learned detectives had requested his wife to come to headquarters for questioning Sunday morning.
Buffalo Courier-Express, November 22, 1933
SPOKANE, Washington, November 21 (AP) — An agreement by which Lily Banka Gaines gave her husband, Dr. James I. Gaines, "the privileges of a single man" less than a month before he was slain was introduced today at the comely young widow's trial on a charge of murdering him.
Over the strenuous objections of Mrs. Gaines' counsel, prosecutor Louis Bunge read the agreement to the jury to support his theory domestic difficulty had preceded the doctor's death August 15. The agreement, written on Gaines' office stationary, was dated July 22, 1933.
The agreement was brief, containing the following single sentence:
"I have this day through my own voluntary act extended to my husband, Dr. James I. Gaines, all the privileges of a single person until January 1, 1934."
Previous state witnesses had testified Mrs. Gaines insisted there had been no domestic troubles and that she and the sanipractor "got along much better than the usual husband and wife."
Police officers who questioned Mrs. Gaines after the shooting quoted the widow as denying she signed the agreement, but later admitted she had signed "something," but that she did not know what it contained.
Prosecutor Bunge's case is based on the theory Mrs. Gaines shot her husband because of his alleged attentions to other women, and because he planned to divorce her, thus forcing her to return to the life of a bookkeeper.
Bunge also introduced as evidence an ante-nuptial agreement in which each relinquished all claims on the property or income of the other for a period of two years.
Oswego Palladium-Times, November 29, 1933
SPOKANE, Washington (AP) — Lily Banka Gaines was free today of the charge of murdering her husband, Dr. James I. Gaines, for his insurance and his property.
She was released from custody last night, a few minutes after a superior court jury acquitted her, refusing to accept the state’s theory that she shot the wealthy sanipractor and sportsman as he stepped from his automobile in the driveway of their home here last August 15.
Acting in sharp contrast to the slow-moving trial, which consumed 14 court days, the jury deliberated only one hour and 10 minutes.