Justice Story

JUSTICE STORY: Bigamist, butcher and father from hell

Two days after Father’s Day, 1949, newspapers carried a story about Kenneth Antoine, 39, who recently learned he might get a visit from his dear old dad.

The news did not fill the San Francisco cabbie with joy.


“Police Guard Son In Vengeance Plot” was how one headline put it on June 21, 1949.

About two decades earlier, Kenneth’s father — Arthur Leroy Antoine, 56 — was convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. The victim was Ada Antoine, his wife and the mother of the couple’s two sons, Kenneth, then 9, and his brother, Ronald, 11.


Arthur and Ada married in 1916 in Michigan. The groom, a skilled mechanic, was restless and dragged his family along as he took jobs in other cities.

When they reached Oakland, Calif., in 1927, Ada had enough and decided to stay to give her sons a stable life.

Arthur found a job 100 miles away in Campo Seco.

Left on her own, Ada opened a grocery store. Acquaintances assumed the hard-working mom was a widow.

Meanwhile, Arthur told Floyd Stovall, who owned the Campo Seco garage where he worked, that he was a widower. He made up this story because he had fallen hard for Stovall’s pretty sister, Lila, 18.

Romance blossomed, and a wedding followed in January 1928.

Shortly after the ceremony, Arthur told his new bride he had to go to Oakland to take care of unfinished business.

The boys later recalled that the last time they saw their mother she was tucking them in for the night and was in tears.


There was no sign of their mother when Arthur cooked breakfast for his sons the next morning.

“Mama’s fallen in love with another man,” Arthur explained. “Last night, she eloped, ran away with him.”

When they got back from school, their father was gone too. Four days later, he returned, Lila by his side and a cheerful announcement on his lips.

“Boys, this is your new Mama!”

Neighbors didn’t believe his story about how his wife had run off to Los Angeles with a rich man. It was so out of character for the woman they knew.

Soon, tongues were wagging with speculation that Arthur had murdered his wife. The gossip reached his bride, who started to see ominous signs in small details. Ada had left behind her curling iron, for example. Lila reasoned that no woman would start a new life without this essential beauty tool.


Back in Campo Seco, Lloyd Stovall was wondering if his brother-in-law was a bigamist. In March 1928, police questioned Arthur about just how many wives he had. During the interrogation, he admitted he had seen Ada die.

“On Jan. 12, I returned to Oakland with the intention of gaining my freedom,” he told the district attorney. His demand for a divorce sent his wife fleeing from the house; she jumped off the nearest bridge.

Later Arthur offered another tale.

He said they quarreled, and she threw herself down on the bed, weeping.

“I got mad,” he told them, so he walked outside and grabbed a sledgehammer. “She was still crying when I returned to the bedroom, so I hit her three or four times. … I hit her until I knew she was dead.”

Then, he said he tossed her body off the bridge.


Searches in the Antoine bedroom turned up blood traces. A steam shovel unearthed a bloody mattress in the yard, but there was no corpse.

Lila took the matter into her delicate hands and begged her hubby to tell the truth. He offered yet another version.

After killing Ada, he peeled the flesh from her bones with a butcher knife and then reduced the bones to splinters with a hatchet and saw. He packed the flesh in one gunny sack and the bone shards in another. That night, he dumped the sacks into different rivers and was home in time to make breakfast for the boys. Then he returned to Campo Seco to pick her up.

Lila immediately filed for divorce.

The jury found Arthur guilty, but because no body was found, he got life in prison instead of death.

“I’m the luckiest man in California,” he crowed.


Both gunnysacks with the grisly remains soon turned up, but it was too late to influence the sentence.

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By the 1940s, good behavior had earned Arthur the right to work outside prison walls. He immediately tried to involve Kenneth in an escape plot. Kenneth, the only relative who visited him, refused.

Later, Arthur gave Kenneth $1500 to start a small business, hoping to satisfy requirements for parole. Nothing came of it, and the money was never returned.

“That skunk,” Arthur snarled to his cellmates. “If I ever get out of here, I’ll kill him.”

No one thought he’d ever go free, but by the spring of 1949, his model-prisoner routine earned him a spot in a minimum-security facility at Chino. He just walked off the grounds one day.

Police told Kenneth his dad had busted out and was probably going to make good on his threat. But Kenneth, poor and beaten down by life, seemed unconcerned.


“If I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it,” he said. Kenneth predicted that Antoine the elder would never be heard from again. For once, his father lived up to his son’s expectations. He was never caught.

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