Wayne Thomas Lonergan, convicted of killing his heiress wife in 1943 and the focal point of one of the most highly publicized trials in New York history, has died in relative obscurity in Toronto.
The New York Times in its Friday editions said Lonergan died of cancer New Year's Day. He was 67 and had been living in his native Canada since being paroled in 1965.
The murder trial--with overtones of wealth, jealousy and the accompanying high drama--attracted hordes of print and radio journalists to a Manhattan courtroom.
Lonergan, who originally confessed to his wife's murder but later recanted, was sentenced to 35 years to life imprisonment. One of the conditions of his eventual parole was that he leave the United States and spend the remainder of his life in his homeland.
Lonergan, who had been a young cadet in the Royal Canadian Air Force, killed Patricia Burton Bernheimer, heiress to a brewery fortune, after she filed for separation and cut her husband out of her will.
She was found in their lavish apartment nude, her skull crushed with a silver candelabra.
Changes His Story
After telling arresting officers that he had killed her, Lonergan then changed his story and said that he had spent the evening of the slaying--Oct. 24, 1943--with another woman. But witnesses gave a differing account. A male friend testified that Lonergan had come to his apartment immediately after the killing to change clothes. And the woman he supposedly had been with contradicted that alibi.
Lonergan then said that he had been with another man--that he had been the victim of an overbearing mother, which forced him into occasional homosexual periods. A jury decided that he had not.
In 1972, Darby Perry wrote "A Chair for Wayne Lonergan," an account of the dramatic trial in which Perry argued that Lonergan was a victim of overzealous reporters and his wife's friends.
That was nearly 20 years after the couple's son had inherited the $7 million the jury decided Lonergan had killed for.