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The Mystery of Jean Hilliker’s First Marriage – Solved

March 15, 2020

Jean Hilliker and the ‘Spalding Man’

Jean Hilliker

One of the most enduring mysteries of Jean Ellroy’s (nee Hilliker) life is her first marriage. When James Ellroy was re-investigating his mother’s murder in his memoir My Dark Places, he was stunned to discover that his mother had been married before she met his father Armand Ellroy. Ellroy found out about the marriage when he met Jean’s niece Janet Wagner Klock: ‘She said Aunt Jean was married once before. It was a very brief marriage. She was married to a young man named Spalding. He was an heir to the Spalding sporting goods fortune.’

Ellroy, along with his co-investigator Bill Stoner, looked into the claims, but they were never able to find a date or location of the wedding: ‘Jean moved to Los Angeles. She might have met the Spalding man there. They were married somewhere. It wasn’t Chicago. It wasn’t in LA County, Orange County, San Diego County, Ventura County, Las Vegas or Reno.’ After such an exhausting search Ellroy might have been tempted to believe Jean’s marriage to the Spalding man was a myth. However, partial confirmation was found as Jean and Armand’s 1947 marriage licence ‘stated that this was the second marriage for both parties.’

The Marriage of Jean Hilliker and Easton Ewing Spaulding

I can now reveal that the wedding took place in Yuma County, Superior Court on November 5, 1940. I have obtained a copy of the marriage licence. Jean was married to Easton Ewing Spaulding. Jean’s family got the Spalding/Spaulding names mixed up, but then the wedding took place in great secrecy: ‘Leoda (Jean’s sister) never met the Spalding man. Jean’s friends never met the Spalding man. Nobody knew his first name.’

This is what I have been able to find out about Easton E. Spaulding. I have taken a lot of this information from the book, The Spaulding Heritage, which was written by Jewell Spaulding Akey in 1970 and is now available online.

Easton was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1902 to Albert Starr Spaulding and Nellie Locke Burrows. In 1908, Albert and Nellie moved their family to Long Beach, California. Nellie died in childbirth the same year. Albert Starr Spaulding had great success as a real-estate speculator in Los Angeles. He purchased and subdivided an area of land ‘between Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue to the east of Fairfax Avenue.’ He used inventive methods to get potential buyers interested ‘Spaulding offered a free streetcar ride, lunch and a lecture on the allure of the area, which was midway between the studios and up-and-coming Beverly Hills.’ The area is now named Spaulding Square after him and is one of the most historically preserved areas in LA.

The Spaulding Family. Easton Ewing Spaulding is on the back row, fourth on the right.

Easton followed his father into the real estate business. His marriage licence to Jean Hilliker lists his occupation as a broker. He had been married twice before he met Jean. In the early 1920s he married Pearl Phelps. They had a son, Frank Tillman Spaulding, born in 1923. He divorced Pearl and married Beatrice ‘Bebe’ McCarthy Clark. They had a daughter Ann, born in 1935. After he married and divorced Jean Hilliker, Easton married for a fourth time. In 1945, Easton married Emile Hensel in – you guessed it – Yuma County.

Once again, the wedding took place in secrecy, but it was reported in the Morning Herald (a Pennsylvania based newspaper) after a tip-off from a source inside the Superior Court:

Didn’t Emily Hensel, sister of Betty Hensel, in whom Cary Grant is interested, get married in Yuma last Monday to Easton Spaulding, wealthy Beverly Hills man? The clerk there says that a license was issued under those names and that a ceremony was performed by Judge Henry C. Kelly…

The marriage lasted until Easton’s death in 1986. Emile died in 2014. Easton was a Beverly Hills resident and records show that he was living there until at least the 1970s. Armand and Jean lived together in Beverly Hills at North Doheny Drive, ‘the address was ritzier than the pad. My mother said it was just a small apartment’. They moved to West Hollywood after their son Lee Earle (now James) was born in 1948. Beverly Hills had a population of 26,000 in 1940. It was a rapidly developing community at the time (it had less than a thousand people in 1920), and was presumably big enough for Jean not to worry about bumping into her ex-husband Easton.

Aftermath

Those are the facts, just the facts. Here are some of my thoughts:

Jean first visited LA on December 12, 1938. She had won a glamour contest as the ‘Most Charming Redhead’. She stayed at the Ambassador Hotel. She took a screen test. She was paid $1,000 and was given a tour of Hollywood. The Spaulding’s had connections in Hollywood. Many Hollywood stars lived in Spaulding Square. Perhaps she met Easton this way. Perhaps he persuaded her to move permanently from Chicago to LA. Perhaps they met after she moved to LA.

Easton’s marriage to Jean was something of an outlier in his life. Yes, he had been married and divorced twice before but those unions had been long enough to produce children. His marriage to Jean appears to have been short and disastrous. It does not appear in the book The Spaulding Heritage, so presumably (as with Jean) none of his family were at the wedding and he probably didn’t tell them about it. The marriage was dissolved shortly afterwards. Armand Ellroy abandoned his first wife, Mildred Feese, to live with Jean in 1941. Easton was short and balding. Armand was tall and handsome. Armand was a few years older than Easton. Perhaps Jean abandoned Easton for Armand. Maybe they were already divorced by the time Jean met Armand. We don’t know. Did Easton pay alimony to Jean until she remarried, or was their marriage too short to warrant that?

Jean Ellroy was murdered in 1958. Armand was questioned by police and ruled out as a suspect. Their son was his alibi at the time Jean was murdered. Armand had custody of the boy at weekends. Armand would have made for a natural suspect if he did not have such a strong alibi. His divorce from Jean had been bitter and acrimonious. Leoda Hilliker always suspected Armand had murdered Jean, ‘my father got a kick out of the notion’. Easton Spaulding, it seems, was never interviewed by the police. His name is never mentioned in Ellroy’s detailed account of the original investigation. It’s probable that the police were unaware of Jean’s first marriage. Ellroy recalls overhearing detectives talking to his father, ‘The cops were saying their case was dead. Jean was such a goddamn secretive woman. Her life just didn’t make sense.’

Jean Hilliker was indeed secretive, but at least we now know the identity of her first husband.

Author’s Note: I informed James Ellroy of my findings prior to the publication of this article.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Catherine Nealy Judd permalink
    March 29, 2020 5:30 am

    Gosh Easton was henpecked, meek, genial, and gentle—an extreme hypochondriac with a wandering eye. Highly unlikely that he murdered his ex-wife, Mr. Ellroy’s mother! The lovely Jean was Easton’s third wife and he went on to several more before finally settling down. In order to see my mother—his daughter Anne—he would have to sneak off to lunch with her on the Sunset Strip. His last wife ruled him with an iron fist. Catherine Nealy Judd

  2. April 15, 2020 2:21 am

    There is no mystery that can`t be solved.Whatever things the left hand is doing it will eventually be revealed.

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