I have previously used this forum to describe instances of life insurance abuse and stress the role that human nature plays in those abusive acts. With the regulation of life insurance practices remaining a noteworthy topic, especially in the context of stranger-owned, bank-owned, and corporate-owned life insurance, these abusive acts should be a constant reminder of the potential harm that may result when a person has an incentive to profit from another’s early death.
One especially horrific example of such abuse involves a scheme devised by Francis Marion Black, Jr., who was convicted of murdering twelve-year-old Marvin Noblitt to claim life insurance benefits. Black was sentenced to death. The appeals court that affirmed Black’s conviction held that there was no doubt that he formed, planned, and committed the crime. His acts were inhuman and the evidence from his trial supported the conviction.
Black and his wife Guinevere were married in 1934 and promptly lost their savings through poor stock investments. Black schemed to recapture the losses by adopting a boy, purchasing an insurance policy on the child’s life, and then killing him in a way that appeared accidental. He contacted two insurance companies about policies on the life of a boy he “intended to adopt.” He requested $50,000 in coverage, but was told that he could insure a child for only $5,000.
Black and his wife then moved to San Benito, Texas and began asking about a twelve or thirteen year old boy they could adopt. Black met Marvin Noblitt’s mother, told her that he intended to open an ice cream parlor in San Antonio, and wanted to adopt a boy who would work at the store before and after school. Marvin’s mother refused the adoption. But she allowed Black to take him for six months and said she would reconsider the adoption if Marvin liked the arrangement.
A few days after arriving in San Antonio, Black applied for a $5,000 policy on Marvin from the Acacia Insurance Company, which refused the application. Undeterred, he applied to the Great American Insurance Company for a $5,000 policy. Black lied in the application and stated that he had cared for Marvin since taking him from an orphanage in Oklahoma. Great American issued the policy on May 29, 1938 and named Black as the policy beneficiary.
Within a week, Black and Guinevere packed all of their possessions and began driving to San Antonio with Marvin. They stopped in Alpine, Texas on June 8th. Black went to a local drug store the next morning and asked about post cards of the Grand Canyon, the local mountain scenery and places of interest within a hundred miles of Alpine. The pharmacist did not have the post cards, but suggested that Black visit Alpine’s Chamber of Commerce. He did so and asked about the Limpia, Grand, and Santa Helena Canyons. The Chamber of Commerce gave him information about the scenic beauty of the country and Agua Frio Springs, located at the foot of a 400 foot cliff. Later that day, Black went to Agua Frio Springs.
The Agua Frio Springs were on a private ranch and the ranch’s owner appeared at Black’s trial. He testified that the springs were located at the foot of a cliff, approximately 400 feet high. He also testified that Black, accompanied by his wife and a child, arrived at the ranch on June 9th at about 5 p.m. and asked for permission to look at the springs, the bluff, and the scenery. He granted Black’s request and, in a very short time, saw two people on top of the cliff rolling stones into the canyon. About thirty minutes later, Black went to the ranch house and reported that his little boy had fallen off the cliff and was injured. The rancher drove his truck to the foot of the cliff and brought Marvin’s mangled body back to the ranch house. Marvin’s body was then taken to an undertaker in Alpine.
Black told the undertaker that he had adopted the boy but had not yet gone through all of the legal formalities. He added that he had taken the boy from Oklahoma about a year earlier and that there was no reason to delay the burial because he did not think he could ever find the boy’s mother. Black also said that he did not have much money and asked if the undertaker would help him collect a $5,000 insurance policy on the boy’s life.
After the funeral, Black and Guinevere were arrested and charged with homicide. Black made a written confession in which he admitted the killing. The confession stated that Black went to the top of the cliff with the boy, threw a few rocks, and then shoved the boy off the cliff.