Friday, October 9, 2015

Detroit's Femme Fatale Nelle (Lassiter)

Nelle Lassiter faces newsmen-February 24, 1960.
On Tuesday, February 23, 1960, Mrs. Nelle Eaker Lassiter--a striking, thirty-eight year old, silver-blonde and shapely former model--was arrested and charged with being the mastermind behind the April 7, 1959 murder of her husband, Parvin (Bill) Lassiter, co-owner of a successful automobile dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan. 

One newspaper account of the arrest says Nelle was on her way to Detroit's City-County building believing she was to be a prosecution witness at the murder trial of her husband. Another account reports police arresting her at an unnamed hospital where she was visiting her daughter and newborn grandson.

The week before her arrest, The Miami News reported, "Nelle Lassiter sobbed and became hysterical with apparent widow's grief while testifying against the three men on trial for bludgeoning and shooting her husband."

Gordon Watson
Several hours after her arrest, Nelle Lassiter's lover--and her husband's business partner--was arrested in Los Angeles on a fugitive warrant. Gordon Watson moved to California with his wife and children shortly after Parvin Lassiter's fatal beating and shooting.

The arrests of Nelle Lassiter and Gordon Watson were the result of the defense attorneys for the accused men asking the prosecution in open court if they had investigated the possibility this was a murder-for-profit case. That left the door open for a second-degree murder plea for their clients Roy C. Hicks (37), Richard Jones (27), and Charles Nash (43) who were being tried on first-degree murder charges. The three men were former employees of Parvin Lassiter. The charges against Mrs. Lassiter and Watson stemmed from statements made by Jones and Hicks to their attorneys.

Mrs. Lassiter and Watson were named in the warrant as "the principal perpetrators and procurers of this evil crime." Both denied any knowledge of the killing. The Buffalo Courier-Express reported "Mrs. Nelle Lassiter pleaded innocent on charges she had her husband slain in a murder-for-hire plot to grab his fortune and clear the path for her romance with his business partner. She looked tired and drawn after spending the night in county jail instead of her fashionable home (in Beverly Hills, Michigan)."

Parvin "Bill" Lassiter
The body of Parvin Lassiter was found on a private estate near Willow Run Airport. Investigators discovered Parvin had returned from a trip to Arizona when he was lured into a waiting car, beaten behind the head, shot in the eye, and thrown in a ditch.

At Nelle's pretrial hearing in a Dearborn Township courtroom, Richard Jones took the stand. He testified, "Gordon Watson took a one-inch stack of bills from Mrs. Lassiter in the summer of 1958 which Watson called the down payment for the assassination of Parvin Lassiter."

The transaction took place in the office of the Royal Oak dealership where Watson and Parvin Lassiter were co-owners. Jones added, "Mrs. Lassiter told Watson 'It won't be long now, Darling, before we can be together forever'."

The Kentucky New Era reported "Nelle Lassiter wailed loudly 'That's not true, that's not true!' The high-strung blonde broke into sobs and clutched the arm of her defense attorney--Joseph Louisell.

"The judge was unable to restore order and called for a recess. After Mrs. Lassiter regained her composure, the hearing resumed twenty minutes later. Forty-five year-old Watson sat calmly in the courtroom throughout the disturbance."

Roy C. Hicks testified the three men were promised $50,000 worth of automobiles to procure the slaying. When Hicks' girlfriend Barbara McCommon testified, she told the court that Nelle Lassiter said Parvin was mean to her and treated her badly. She did not love him anymore. Under prosecution immunity, Miss McCommon suggested Mrs. Lassiter get rid of her husband and contact her boyfriend--Roy Hicks.

Mrs. Lassiter shouted out, "That's a lie! Why are they saying these things? I didn't kill my husband." She whipped herself into a frenzy and had a nervous breakdown in court. This was the fifth time the pre-trial hearing had been interrupted. Defense attorney Joseph Louisell requested Judge Joseph G. Rashid order Mrs. Lassiter to be examined by qualified mental health professionals to judge her competency to stand trial.

The Detroit Free Press reported Nelle Lassiter's sanity hearing took place at her bedside in Jenning's Memorial Hospital. "Mrs. Lassiter, wearing a standard white hospital gown, lay motionless on a narrow bed. Two of three psychiatrists who examined Lassiter found her to be insane within the scope of the law and were prepared to testify to that in open court.

Judge Rashid ruled, "I have no choice but to declare a mistrial and turn Mrs. Lassiter over to the sheriff for removal to Ionia State Hospital until she is restored."

The murder trial of her co-conspirator and co-defendant Gordon Watson continued without "the trim, blonde grandmother." He got a life sentence. Joseph Louisell was eventually able to get Nelle Lassiter acquitted. Afterwards, she vanished from the scrutiny of the public eye.