Clara Philips: The Tiger Lady
Alright y’all. Since having been quarantined, I, like many other people around the world, have been keeping up with what was related and trending on Netflix.
And I fell, deeply, head over heels into the world of the Tiger King.
Boy oh boy, is that a whole world that I had absolutely no idea about until Thursday, March 26th, 2020. Just, wow.
From the animals, to the love lives, to the petty rivalries, so much is happening that you almost forget this whole entire thing is about tigers until you see them playing on screen. Or, in other cases, completely fighting and tearing at each other.
I think that one of the zoo workers named Reinke had the best summarization of the whole series, “Lots of drama in the zoo world.”
But, it did give me some inspiration for this week’s episode. So, let’s take a break from the Tiger King for a minute, and talk about the Tiger Lady, Clara Phillips.
But first, our resources:
How Murderess Clara Phillips Became “Tiger Girl”, by Joan Renner
Clara Phillips Leaves Prison
Clara Phillips Was Never One to Mask by Cecilia Rasmussen
Articles by Agnes Underwood 1930s
Special to New York Times 1926
I wasn’t able to find much about Clara Phillip’s early life. Not even her maiden name, all the information that I have about her is relating to the crime she committed. Why is she known as the Tiger Lady?
Well, for the brutality in which she killed her husband’s mistress.
Clara Phillips was married to Armour Phillips, who was an up and coming oil stock salesman during the 1920s. Side-note, I love stories set during the ‘20s. The absolute madness of that entire decade is astounding to me.
Anyway, Clara was married to Armour and they lived in a big fancy house in Los Angeles, and everything seemed to be going perfectly for the two of them. Armour worked as a rising star at his company, and Clara, who used to work as a chorus girl, got settled into her new house.
Except, Armour’s credit was souring, and with it, his marriage. He began having an affair with a widowed woman who worked at his bank, Alberta Meadows.
Clara apparently picked up on it quite quickly. That, or maybe Armour wasn’t trying that hard to hide it. She began to follow him, and through doing that was able to confirm her suspicions about his affair. And, she handled this in a way I feel any other person would do when they found their partner was cheating on them. She called one of her good friends, Peggy Caffey, who had also been a chorus girl, and they agreed to meet for drinks.
However, before she met up with her friend Peggy, she stopped by the store, and picked up a claw end hammer.
They drowned their sorrows, as was definitely understandable. And then, this is where a lot of inconsistencies come in.
One story says that the two women were walking back towards their home when Alberta just happened to drive by. They then waved her down and asked for a ride, which she gave.
Another story says that Clara told the cab driver to take them to either a neighborhood near Alberta’s house, or gave Alberta’s address, and it was there they ran into her.
Either way, somehow they ended up meeting up with Alberta that night. After some small talk, Clara asked if Alberta would give the two of them a ride to Clara’s sister’s house, near the top of a hill in Montecido Heights.
Clara directed Alberta to the end of a dirt road, where she then confronted her about sleeping with her husband.
Alberta got out of the car, denying the affair, and it was then that Clara got out of the car and punched her. At this point, Alberta started to run away back down the hill.
But when she did, her heel broke, and she fell. It was then that Clara caught up to her, bringing with her the hammer she’d bought earlier that day. She bashed it over her head, over and over again, until poor Alberta Meadows was dead. As if that wasn’t enough, she then raked the claw end of the hammer over her face. A police detective would later be quoted as saying it looked like she had been “mauled by a tiger.” This would stick with Clara Phillips, and be eventually what gave her the nickname of the “Tiger Lady.”
Peggy, of course, was hysterical at this point. She’d just watched one of her friends beat another woman to death.
Rather calmly, Clara got back into the car, and told her to tell no one. One source quotes her as saying, “Remember, you’re in this just as much as I am”, before using Alberta’s car to drive her home.
She then drives herself home, greeting her appropriately horrified husband in the driveway by saying, “She’s dead!” and then promising to cook him the best dinner he’s ever had.
Armour convinces her to go on the run. They take Alberta’s car and abandon it in Pomona, CA. Then, Armour takes her to a train station, where she boards a train heading to Tucson, AZ.
After she leaves, her husband starts having second thoughts. And he decides to go to the police, and spill the whole story.
Clara ends up getting picked up by police in Tucson, and it somehow gets even crazier from here.
See, of course her story became infamous in Los Angeles. She was a pretty, sweet faced girl who seemed to show absolutely no remorse for the crime she’d committed.
Her trial was set in September, and it was completely packed with reporters and others who were fascinated by her case.
Clara was sentenced to second degree murder, and began serving her sentence in the San Quentin prison.
On December 5th, 1922 Clara escaped from prison.
A story went around saying that she had been smuggled a hacksaw, cut the jail bars in her window, and climbed down the drainpipe. But, the reality was, she bribed the deputy on duty to let her go.
Clara was on the run for 4 months, and somehow made her way to Honduras, where she was eventually found in Tegulcigalpa. She eventually was able to be extradited to the United States, and as a condition of her extradition, she was able to be paroled in 1935.
During her remaining 13 years in prison, Clara trained as a dental assistant, fell in love with another convict who was working as an electrician named Thomas J. Price, and was a model prisoner.
About a year before her release, she divorced her husband for the man she fell in love with in prison. Around that time was also when Armour Phillips disappeared from public knowledge, unable to be found by friends, family, or media.
In 1935, she was released, although her plan upon release was unclear. “I want to go back into the world to be a useful citizen and a model housewife, and have babies.” Is what she told newspapers upon her release.
And that, is the crazy story, of the murderess Clara Philips, the Tiger Lady.