Historical Series: The Time the Trial of an Accused Husband Killer, Lydia Dean, Began

| January 30, 2023

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Historical Series: “The Time the Trial of an Accused Husband Killer, Lydia Dean, Began” Part Four. In his opening statement in the first-degree murder trial of Lydia Dean, Venango County District Attorney Robert T. Grannis asked a jury of seven men and five women to return a verdict of guilty.

(Photo above: Lydia Dean outside court. Photo credit: AP Wirephoto, 1958.)

Venango County Historical Series is brought to you by First United National Bank – The FUN Bank!

It was on January 27, 1958. Lydia had been lodged in the Venango County Jail since December 7. Early that morning, she had shot her husband, Air Force Tech Sergeant Ronald Dean, in the head with a buffalo gun.

Since that time, news of her case had whirled around the world. Another woman that Ronald was supposedly in love with had called Lydia from England, offering her moral support. All the way in Sussex, the woman had heard the news and circumstances of Ronald’s death.

Venango County District Attorney Robert T. Grannis. Photo credit: The Derrick, 1961.

In the Philippines, the country of Lydia’s birth, a future Supreme Court Justice had boarded a flight to the U.S. to help defend her.

In the communist bloc, propaganda had been spread about Lydia’s case, claiming that a non-white wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in the USA.

It hadn’t been all bad for Lydia, though. Her mother, Eugenia Clubal de Deen, had made her way to Venango County and was frequently visiting her in jail, while caring for Lydia and Ronald’s three-year-old daughter, Phyllis.

Eugenia Clubal de Deen, right, with her granddaughter Phyllis Sue Dean. Photo credit: AP Wirephoto, 1958.

Back at the trial, Grannis probably felt that he had a conviction in-the-bag.

“By her own admission,” Grannis told the jury as he continued his opening statement, “Mrs. Dean loaded the gun and deliberately fired at her husband.”

Grannis went on to illustrate to the jury the lengths that Lydia went to in order to plan her attack.

The telephone at Ronald’s parent’s home, the home they’d been staying in, was rendered useless when Lydia removed fuses from the phone’s hookup. Then, she cut the ignition wires of Ronald’s car, took the keys of another, and fled in a third: her father-in-law’s car.

“In fact,” Grannis said, “Mrs. Dean took her three-year-old daughter from the home and put her in an automobile. Then, she reentered the home and shot her husband in the head and fled in the car with her daughter.”

Grannis explained that after driving from Pleasantville to Oil City, Lydia stopped at the home of a stranger and admitted to the slaying.

She even purchased the bullet used to shoot her husband, he told the jury.

For Grannis, this was an important case. Not only did it have international attention, but it was also his first murder case. Venango County didn’t see very many homicides in the 1950s.

Grannis’ plan was to present 14 witnesses to prove his case—police officers, a ballistics expert, the county coroner, and members of Ronald’s family.

Subpoena of witnesses for the defense to appear at a hearing prior to the trial.

As each witness took the stand, a clearer and clearer picture emerged. Ronald had asked Lydia for a divorce, which she didn’t want to give. She wanted to travel with him to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, where he was due to report, but he didn’t want her to come along.

Pathologist Maurice C. Dinberg told the jury that the rifle was only an inch and a half to two inches away from Ronald’s head when it was discharged. The injury he suffered was described as a six-inch wound with brown discoloration, which was caused by “combustion gases.”

District Attorney Robert T. Grannis, Coroner/Pathologist Dr. Maurice C. Dinberg, and defense attorney Estanislao Fernandez during a recess in the trial. Photo Credit: AP Wirephoto.

When the defense would cross-examine the witnesses, Lydia’s lawyers continually tried to bring up the “love triangle,” referring to Brenda Gray, the woman Ronald was planning to marry after divorcing Lydia. But, when attorney J.G. McGill brought up the English woman, the prosecution objected and the judge sustained, ruling that McGill should confine his questions to the matters already testified about.

McGill even showed Ronald’s mother a copy of a love letter penned by her son to Gray, the prosecutor objected.

“Objection sustained,” Judge McCracken said. “If the court is wrong, you have your remedy.”

Because District Attorney Grannis skillfully stayed on the subject of the physical evidence, McGill would have to wait until he put on his defense to bring up any of the details of the relationship between his client and the victim.

Exceprt from the docket sheet still kept in storage in the prothonoary’s office of the Venango County Courthouse.

But, would it be enough?

His client had pleaded not guilty. Period. And, she hadn’t changed it to not guilty by reason of temporary insanity or anything of the sort. What would it matter to her defense if Ronald was a terrible husband?

I’ll answer that question in Part Five.

Read Part One: Historical Series: The Time the World’s Gaze Was on Venango County and Peace Hung in the Balance

Read Part Two: Historical Series: The Time Venango County Rallied Behind an Accused Murderess

Read Part Three: Historical Series: The Time a Future Supreme Court Justice Defended an Accused Murderer in Venango County

Venango County Historical Series is brought to you by First United National Bank – The FUN Bank!

Stop at one of their offices in Fryburg, Clarion, New Bethlehem, Oil City, Franklin, or Cranberry and allow First United National Bank to make you one of their satisfied customers.

For more information on “The FUN Bank,” visit Fun-Bank.com.

Special Thanks: The staff of the prothonotary’s office at the Venango County Courthouse have, once again, gone above and beyond in helping me find old court records. It’s thanks to their efforts that I have the official details of the court proceedings of Lydia Dean’s case.

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Gavin Fish is a reporter for EYT Media Group and YouTuber based in Venango County. In addition to his YouTube Channel, he has contributed to investigations and reports for ABC News, Investigation Discovery, and Fox Nation, and has collaborated on projects developed for Netflix, Oxygen, Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
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