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

| January 4, 2023

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Historical Series: The Time Venango County Rallied Behind an Accused Murderess – Part Two. In 1957, a Filipino “war bride” is accused of fatally shooting her husband at his father’s residence in Pleasantville, Pa.

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It was December 7, 1957, and 21-year-old Lydia Dean found herself inside a cell in the Venango County Jail.

Lydia, Filipina by birth, had shot her 29-year-old Air Force sergeant husband in the head. She didn’t deny it. He had fallen in love with an English woman, got her pregnant, and wanted to start a life with her.

His young wife and his toddler daughter had been staying with his parents while he was on a 17-month deployment to the United Kingdom.

Awkward doesn’t begin to describe the situation. But is awkwardness a reason to shoot your husband with a .45-70 caliber buffalo gun? Probably not. In fact, yeah, definitely not.

The following day, District Attorney Robert T. Grannis visited Lydia in jail but said she was too upset to be questioned. He told the media that he was planning on charging Lydia with the murder of her husband, but he didn’t specify to what degree.

The next day, December 9, 1957, Lydia stood before Alderman E.G. Bolmer for her arraignment. She was represented by an attorney named Gerald McGill, also known as J. G. McGill of McGill & McGill, in Oil City. Lydia’s friends from Pleasantville helped secure his services for her.

Lydia Dean with Attorney(Pictured: Lydia Dean on her way to court. Photo credit: AP Wirephoto.)

When asked how she pleaded, she said, “Not guilty. God help me, it isn’t true.”

She waived her right to a preliminary hearing.

Following the arraignment, Attorney McGill told the press that while his client pleaded not guilty, she may change her plea to “justifiable homicide or justifiable homicide due to temporary insanity, or both, before we’re through.”

Meanwhile, back in the Philippines, Lydia’s mother was confused and overwhelmed by the news that had reached her. Her daughter was in jail, accused of murdering her son-in-law. She told the press that they seemed “very much in love” and that her daughter’s letters gave no indication of trouble.

On the other side of the world, news had reached the English woman who was expecting Ronald Dean’s baby.

Brenda Saville Gray, 25, of Braintree, England, a small town about an hour to the northeast of London, said she learned of Ronald’s death by reading about it in the newspaper.

“I met him a year ago at a dance. He was so quiet and nice, and we started going out together,” she said, adding, “He never told me that he was married.”

On December 10, Brenda telephoned Lydia at the Venango County Jail. She reportedly told her that she wasn’t sure she loved Robert enough to marry him.

“He was trying to make arrangements for me to come to America, but I was going to live with my sister in Texas,” she said. “Really, I hadn’t made up my mind if I was going to come out there.”

Robert, it seems, was sure about his love for his would-be British bride. The final words he wrote in an unfinished letter to Brenda that was found in his pocket after his death read, “All my love is for you.”

News reports said that most of the conversation between Robert’s wife and his English girlfriend was spent in tears. Lydia asked Brenda to help her. Brenda didn’t know what she could do from England.

Lydia Dean with Sheriff Cunningham and Deputy Grace Bell(Pictured: Lydia Dean being escorted to court by Sheriff J.E. Cunningham and Deputy Grace Bell. Photo credit: AP Wirephoto.)

By the next day, a surprising movement had begun to take shape in Venango County. Perhaps it was driven by pure charity. Perhaps it was because Lydia’s story was crisscrossing the globe at breakneck speed. There were already whispers of “the Red Communists” spreading the propaganda that Lydia’s fate was sealed. “No non-white person could get a fair trial in the USA,” they purportedly said.

Either way, a movement had begun to help Lydia.

“We do not condone or condemn Mrs. Dean for what has happened,” said the Reverend Bernard Webber, a Roman Catholic Priest. “We regard her as a stranger in a strange land. But, the people here are backing her 100 percent.”

Community members from around the county began raising funds for Lydia’s legal aid. With a goal of $2,000.00, the “Lydia Dean Fund” already had $400.00 in its coffers by December 12, 1957.

“Feeling for support of Mrs. Dean is very high,” said fund chairman Robert Litzinge, of Oil City. “The sponsors of this fund are making no attempt to judge any of the participants in the tragedy. They neither condemn nor condone Mrs. Dean’s action. Her guilt or innocence will be judged by the courts.”

By Christmas Eve, The Lydia Dean Fund was up to $1,600.00. The goal of $2,000.00 was met on January 15.

Twelve days later, though, the grand jury would convene. I’ll tell you what they thought of Lydia in Part Three.

Read Part 1: Historical Series: The Time the World’s Gaze Was on Venango County and Peace Hung in the Balance

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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