Nellie May Madison, Eric Madison: 1930s Husband Slayer, California Death Row Inmate Story To Air On ‘A Crime To Remember’

Nellie May Madison, one of the first women to receive a death sentence in the state of California, will have her story told on Investigation Discovery‘s A Crime To Remember. Recently, Inquisitr reported on Chester and Mary Burge, another tragic murder story that was featured on the crime documentary show. In this week’s A Crime To Remember entitled “Damsel On Death Row,” experts will discuss the case of Nellie Madison, a four-time bride who killed husband number five in a boarding house that sat near a Hollywood movie studio back in the 1930s, according to the Pittsburgh Press. Though she was sentenced to death for the murder of Eric Madison, her sentence was later commuted to life in prison, since it was determined that she was a woman who had endured severe abuse by Eric Madison. In the upcoming episode, crime experts, journalists, law enforcement officials, and historians will round out the story.

The murder of Eric Madison, also known as Eric D. Madison, hit the news press in 1934. Police say that’s when an apartment manager at a local apartment complex in Burbank, California, discovered Madison’s dead body. He was dressed in just his underwear at the time. Once the police were dispatched to the home, they found the man with several guns shot wounds to the back. A court document, found at Justia, about the case describes the crime scene in detail.

“About 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, March 25, 1934, a body identified as that of Eric D. Madison was found in the room occupied by the couple in an apartment house in the city of Burbank in Los Angeles County. The evidence also showed that four out of six bullets fired from a 32-20 Colt revolver pierced the body. The shots were shown to have been fired at close range. One of them pierced the head, coming out at the corner of the left eye near the nose. Another entered the back and passed through the great aorta into the liver. Some pierced the mattress and bedding and lodged in the floor beneath the bed. Others lodged in the wall. The body of the deceased was found clad only in underwear, lying partly on the floor with the left arm over a chair. There were large blood stains on the bed linen, and the underclothing on the deceased was blood stained. The evidence satisfactorily established that the body had been dead more than twelve hours.”

At the scene, they also discovered a gun and a whiskey bottle, which still reeked of alcohol. Eric Madison, a former hotel coffee shop worker and hotel employee, worked as a “motion picture studio” accountant and auditor, according to old newspapers from 1934. The papers also describe Nellie Madison as a former cowgirl, who was originally from Montana.


After finding his body, authorities say they were told by neighbors that they heard several gunshots, and then heard the screams of what sounded like a man, but they chalked it up to fake gunshot sounds at the local movie studio located near the home. The man’s wife, Nellie, was seen leaving the residence the next morning, and an all-out manhunt ensued to find the 38-year-old brunette. Law enforcement officials finally got a break when they located Nellie Madison hiding out in the mountains.

Pretending she had no knowledge of the crime, she was apprehended and charged with Eric Madison’s death. At trial, a jury found her guilty and gave her the death sentence. Later, she came out publicly with her story of abuse at the hands of Eric, stating that the killing had been an act of self defense. Eventually, Nellie was handed a reduced sentence and ultimately her freedom was granted in 1943. After her release from prison, Nellie May Madison changed her name and married a man named John Wagner. They remained married until she died of a stroke at 58-years-old in San Bernardino, as stated in an article from the Los Angeles Times.

Some of the best resources on the subject are the 2007 book by Kathleen A. Cairns, The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison, and Women and Capital Punishment in the United States: An Analytical History by David V. Baker. To see the story reenacted, step back in time with A Crime To Remember this Tuesday night at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

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