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These newspaper stories pretty much tell the story of one of the most unusual murders of the year, a killing that resulted from a lunatic plot hatched by young men who somehow believed they could get rich if only they had an airplane . . .

Brooklyn Daily Star, February 24
SAN BENITO, Texas (UP) — The first aerial murder on record was reconstructed today over the shattered remains of an airplane that crashed to earth with its pilot and a passenger fatally shot.

Lehman Nelson, 33, a flying instructor was dead when taken from the wreckage. Erin McCall, 21, a student flier, died shortly after the crash. Authorities believed McCall shot his instructor while the machine was in the air, and then shot himself.

Buffalo Courier Express, February 25
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) —A police theory that a youthful student flier had slain his instructor during a practice flight in order to obtain possession of an airplane for use by a gang of robbers today led to the detention of twelve men.

The student, Erin McCall, 21, shot and killed himself late yesterday at San Benito, Texas, after landing the plane, containing the body of Lehman Nelson, the instructor. Nelson, with a bullet wound in the back of his head, as in the front cockpit of the plane.

At a secret hearing today, District Attorney D. S. Purl began questioning the dozen men taken into custody.

Court records showed that McCall had been convicted for theft several years ago and had served a term in the State Reform School.

Purl said Nelson was an "entirely innocent victim of circumstance." It was by chance that Nelson flew the plane.

McCall telephoned Bill Williams, who usually piloted the plane, at Harlingen, Texas, yesterday afternoon, asking for a lesson. Williams said he could not make the flight, but communicated with Nelson, who agreed to take over the assignment.

The men flew to the San Benito Airport, stopped briefly and took off again. It was a short time later that George Witzel, a farmer, noticed the plane flying close to the ground, and stopped his work to watch it. He said the man in the front seat evidently was unconscious, and he believed the man's nose was bleeding.

The plane landed three miles away. Purl was told by a Mexican family that McCall got out, walked around the ship, and, after a second glance, turned away and shot himself in the head.

Investigators sought to link the two deaths with airplane thieves who might have taken advantage of McCall's youth to use him as a tool, and two recent attempts to steal the plane from its hangar.

McCall, although a member of a prominent San Benito family, had not been living with his parents recently, but at a separate residence with Earl Dodson, another young man. His roommate revealed, after being held for questioning, that McCall had contracted a serious disease and recently had been in a nervous condition.

The fact that Nelson's body was cold when witnesses arrived at the scene of the airplane landing led officers to believe McCall had shot him sometime before the plane reached the ground.

They further reasoned that McCall, in desperation, determined to land and take his own life. Three shots had been fired from a pistol, found beside his body, but only two had taken effect.

Nelson was a large man and apparently decided to struggle for possession of the ship, officers believe. He was one of the best fliers in the Rio Grande valley, and had been a pilot and instructor for nine years.

For several years he operated a service station at La Feria, but moved to Harlingen with his wife four months ago.

 
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 1933
Flaming youth, personified by five boys and a 17-year-old blonde girl, slim and lovely, shocked the great state of Texas recently with a tale of fantastic adventure that ended in tragedy.

The boys were to steal an airplane and fly into the wilds of Yucatan. The girl was to act as a “lure de luxe” to help them in the plot, according to the allegations.

But the plot went wrong, murder and suicide were the result. And the girl who figured in the weird case was kept mysteriously in the background. The chivalrous Southern law-enforcement officers carefully guarded her identity for weeks.

The touch of the mysterious, of course, whetted the public interest. Reports said the girl was the sub-deb-darling of a prominent family and heiress to a million-dollar fruit ranch.

Detectives admitted the girl planned to lure an airplane pilot away from his ship so that her boy friend could steal it and fly away after gold. They recited details of how she planned to “vamp the guy,” but that was as far as they would go. Her name? They would keep that a secret.

The story of how the plans went wrong, and it soon became well known how the pilot was brutally shot to death in mid-air, how the plane crashed, and how the boy murderer committed suicide and breathed his last in the arms of the mystery girl.

The girl had been a clandestine sweetheart of Erin McCall, 21, of Harlingen, a village near San Benito. McCall, son of a prominent family, was greatly interested in aviation,, and had been taking flying lessons. One day he read a newspaper story of the princely salaries being paid pilots who flew gold over the mountains of Yucatan. Here were romance and excitement.

He called in four chums — Earl Dodson, Clois Lawson, Gaylaird Pitts and Vernon Bryan, all of Harlingen, and all about the same age. They worked out an amazing plot. McCall promised to get his girl friend, the mystery girl, to help. According to later testimony, they first tried to steal a plane from a hangar, but failed.

A few days later McCall went out to the Harlingen airport for his regular flying lesson. Lehman Nelson, 33, an instructor, was assigned to take him up. They took off in a two-seater, Nelson ad the front controls. From then until they cracked up, nobody knows what transpired.

The plot, it developed later, called for McCall landing at a practice airport near San Benito. There the mystery girl was to be waiting. When the plane landed, she was to run up and entice the instructor away from the plane. McCall would then take off in the ship, pick up the other boys, and head for Yucatan, coming back later for the girl.

Apparently, Nelson refused to land at the San Benito field. McCall, seeing his plans going to ruin, grew panicky, whipped out a pistol and shot Nelson in the head, from behind. Probably he planned to leave the body at the airport and resume the flight. The state later charged that the boys had discussed murdering the pilot if it were necessary to get the plane.

McCall brought the ship down with his cargo of death; nosed up too soon. The ship bounded into the air, struck again, and broke the propeller.

McCall jumped from the cockpit and started for the hangar on the run. The girl was standing at the doorway. Suddenly McCall stopped. He jerked the pistol from his pocket, placed the barrel to his temple, and fired.

He was dead when an ambulance reached the field. Nelson had died instantly in the air. Doctors found the girl with McCall’s head in her lap, holding a tiny linen handkerchief to his wound. Her story implicated the other boys

Earl Dodson, it developed, had given McCall the murder weapon. He was tried to abetting the murder. The mystery girl was smuggled into the courtroom and testified against him. Her name was revealed as Grace Kirby.

Dodson was convicted and sentenced to prison for eight years. The other boys, released on bail, are awaiting trial for attempting to steal an airplane. And the girl, it appears, will go free
.
 

Madera (CA) Tribune, April 1
BROWNSVILLE. Tex., April 1 (UP) —Earl Dodson, 17- year-old high school boy, charged with murder In the slaying of a flying instructor, was found guilty of complicity by a district court jury today and sentenced to eight years Imprisonment.

He was convicted on the fourth count of the indictment which alleged he furnished arms and aided In the murder plot.

Mrs. Gertrude Dodson, widowed mother of the prisoner, was removed from the courtroom in a state of near collapse after the verdict was read.

Dodson received the verdict calmly. He was charged with the slaying of Lehman Nelson of Harlingen, Texas, flying instructor, last February 23.

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