How the ‘Blonde Rattlesnake’ Stirred Public Fascination With Female Accomplices
by Julia Bricklin Zocalo Public Square/Smithsonian.com
What is the root of our cultural fascination with women—often wives or girlfriends—who accompany men as they commit a violent or notorious crime? In recent years, the husband-and-wife San Bernardino terrorists, along with the wives of the Boston Marathon bomber and the Orlando nightclub shooter, have drawn round-the-clock coverage of the question: Why did she go along with it?
One historical clue to the origins of this American obsession can be found in 1933, when the office of Los Angeles District Attorney Buron Fitts began prosecuting the case of Burmah Adams White.
Burmah was a 19-year-old hairdresser and Santa Ana High School student when she married an alleged gangster, Tom White. They spent their honeymoon on a crime spree, using their guns to rob at least 20 people in L.A. over an eight-week period. Her platinum blonde hair would inspire the nickname, “The Blonde Rattlesnake.”
The worst of her crimes was her assistance to Tom in the shooting of a popular elementary school teacher, Cora Withington, and a former publisher, Crombie Allen, who was teaching Withington how to drive his new car.