November 4, 1986: The Death of Killer Lucille Miller


WHAT HAPPENED?


Lucille Miller was an American housewife and mother who was convicted of the first-degree murder of her husband so she could obtain his life insurance policy.


She was paroled from her sentence in 1972, and lived for another 14 years before dying on November 4, 1986.

THE MURDER


At the time Miller would murder her husband, she was just about 35 years old and married to Dr. Gordon "Cork" Miller. She was a mother of 3 children, and pregnant with the couple's 4th child.


The Millers were Seventh-day Adventists and met and married while attending Walla Walla College, owned and operated by people in the same religion. They had recently relocated from Oregon to a new home in San Bernardino County, California, as Cork wanted to attend medical school at the nearby SDA-owned school Loma Linda University Medical Center.


Debra J. Miller, their oldest child, said that her father always wanted to be an airline pilot, but had decided against his wishes to follow his father into dentistry so his college would be funded. Perhaps because he wasn't living the life of his dreams, and perhaps for more reasons, Cork had begun showing signs of depression and suicidal ideation. He had been taking sedatives to fall asleep.


Debra said that she knew her father was suicidal, even when she was young. He always said he would die in a car accident. Once, in the summer of 1964, he told his 2 sons they would see him again in heaven. Once in September of 1964, Miller yelled at Debra to grab the car keys, go to her room, and lock the door. She knew that her father was likely trying to take the car to end his life. She said she felt like she was helping to keep her father alive by doing as she was told.


On October 7, 1964, Miller got her husband a glass of milk to settle his upset stomach, and realized she needed to make a quick late night trip to the store to get more milk, as she had run out and the kids would need it for breakfast. Cork asked if he could join, and he came along, falling asleep in the passenger seat. She locked his door so he wouldn't fall out, she reported. They went to an all-night market and purchased milk.

At about 12:30 am, on the way home, Miller claimed that a tire of the car blew out, causing the vehicle to catch on fire as she drove down the street. She got out of the car, and claimed she tried to break a window to get to her husband, but the fire was burning too hot to get her husband out of the car. He was, allegedly, still asleep and didn't wake up to let himself out. She went to get help from a nearby house who called the police. The car was hanging over an embankment when they arrived.


Originally, police believed her story. But upon closer examination, there was some shady goings on. For instance, the skid marks were way shorter than they would have been if she had come to an abrupt stop like she said. They also noticed an empty can of gasoline laying on the ground, toppled over, but the charred milk cartons were still standing upright through the commotion. It also appeared someone had tried to push the car the rest of the way over the embankment.


When Debra woke up that morning, she could tell something was wrong. Even though it was a school day, no one was awake getting ready for school or work. There was a cop car in the driveway. Immediately, she knew it had finally happened. Her father was dead. She found her mom curled up in bed, and she confirmed Cork was dead. She said he did not commit suicide, it was an accident. Debra was left to tell her younger brothers what happened to their father.



The investigation led to the discovery that an insurance policy of $125,000-$140,000 with a double indemnity if the cause of death was accidental. They were suffering from some financial issues, about $64,000 in debt, providing motive. And the icing on top, Miller was having an affair with a wealthy lawyer named Arthwell Hayton, who's wife had died under mysterious circumstances. The affair wasn't a secret. She readily offered it up to police and insisted that her husband knew about it.


Miller was arrested later that day for the murder of her husband.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS


The autopsy would later reveal that Cork did have enough medication in his system for him to easily sleep through such a commotion, and that he likely died in seconds from the fire.


At the time of Miller's case, no woman (let alone a pregnant woman) had ever been executed in California, and the media speculated that she may be the first to be given the gas chamber. In January 1965, the only story that outsold Miller's in the papers was the Academy Awards. Miller's case was the biggest news of the time.


The prosecution argued that Miller was selfish and materialistic, and wanted her husband out of the picture so she could marry her rich boyfriend with a higher social status, and get the insurance payout from hr husband's death. Investigators claimed that she had doused the car in gas intentionally and planned to push it over the embankment. An expert claimed that the car couldn't have burned as it did without an accelerant.


The defense argued the crash was an accident and that Miller couldn't have pulled it off by herself. They had excuses for all of the odd coincidences. But it wasn't enough.


After less than a 2 month trial, Miller was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison on March 5, 1965. Her conviction was upheld on appeal in 1966 and again in 1968 bu the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, respectively.


She served a whopping 7 years of her life sentence, and was paroled in 1972.

AFTERMATH AND THEORIES


Miller's children all married, but none of them had any children. Debra and Miller's son Ron both became teachers, and Ron was a writer, as well. Their other son, Guy, became a third-generation dentist in the Miller family. Their 4th child, Kimi Kai who Miller gave birth to while incarcerated, died at the age of 25 from lung cancer, leaving 2 children behind.


Miller's lover, Hayton, married his child's governess when Miller went to prison. Police did investigate his first wife's death, but it was ruled an accidental overdose, despite the coincidence of their affair, and that Cork had also been found with sedatives in him when he died.


After getting out of jail, Miller lived a quiet life, spending a lot of time with her children. She became a prison-educated stenographer while behind bars and was a model prisoner, earning her 3 job offers in LA after her release. She planned to change her name. Not much more information is known about her. She died on November 4, 1986, 34 years ago today.


There are 3 main theories in this case about what actually happened.


The first is that the prosecution was right, and Miller killed her husband in cold blood because she didn't love him and wanted the money. They had marital issues and financial issues and she was having an affair. Given the physical evidence, and the circumstantial evidence, this seems very likely.


The second theory is that everything the defense said was right, and it was actually an accident. The road was dangerous, as Miller had just gotten into an accident with Debra on the same road months before. It was likely he slept through the accident given the amount of medication in his system, and perhaps Miller did put her all into trying to get him out. While some think it is odd that she brought her completely passed out husband with her for a midnight milk run, others believe it was her fear of the dark that drove her to bring her husband along. Still, a totally passed out human isn't going to be much help if anything happens.


The final theory is that Cork finally committed suicide, but with help from Miller. They both would have gotten what they wanted: Miller would have gotten her payout, and Cork would have gotten death. If it looked like an accident, they'd both get what they wanted with no repercussions. Of course, it didn't really work. But, I do think this is plausible. If he wanted to die so bad, but his wife would get more money and benefit if he died accidentally, it makes sense that they may have made a plan that was the best of both worlds.


I'm honestly not sure what happened. I'm aligned with theory 1 or 3, I do not think it was an out and out accident. I am compelled by theory 3, but I feel like they would have thought it out better to ensure Miller didn't go down for the crime. I also think she would have shared the decision during her trial to help her case if it had been planned out. Regardless, serving only 7 years of a life sentence seems super unfair.


It is a weird one for sure! What do you think happened?

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Miller

https://www.maryhallbergmedia.com/post/2019/07/01/the-mysterious-death-of-gordon-cork-miller


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