The last two notorious cases have never been fully exposed. In the one, Gladys filed a paternity suit against Elijah Muhammad. Her photo blazed across the front pages of all the newspapers in the U.S. for weeks. In the photo, she wore a wide black sombrero. Gladys had been hired by Elijah Muhammad’s mistresses, who, mightily pissed off, wanted to drag him into court to destroy his career and reputation. Not surprisingly, Malcolm X was behind the entire episode. His plan worked. Because of the scandal, Elijah Muhammad faded and the Nation of Islam looked to Malcolm X as its leader.
In the other, Gladys defended Robert Clayton Buick, the CIA’s bullfighter-turned-spy-turned-bank robber. The case was rife with conspiracy and cover-up and people who knew too much but weren’t saying what they knew.
Before his arrest, Buick was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. He had robbed 22 banks. Prior to that, Buick had been an accomplished bullfighter in Mexico, where he was recruited by the CIA to spy on Lee Harvey Oswald two months before JFK’s assassination.
Once the FBI arrested him, Buick needed the best criminal defense attorney in the world. So he hired Gladys Towles Root. Gladys saved Buick from life imprisonment. Buick received three twenty-year sentences. Amazingly, he was released after serving only five years. And he had plenty of money when he got out.
Through all of this, Gladys never stopped working on her more mundane cases. The tactics she employed in her cases were unique and frequently successful. The book will cover many of these tactics in detail, and the way she used them. In one case, for example, she proved that a mortician who liked to copulate with dead female bodies was not guilty of rape. Gladys’s defense tactic was theological. It went like this: a dead body was not a human being because the corpse didn’t have a ‘soul.’ Which meant the mortician – although he was a sick pervert – had not committed the crime of rape.
On December 21, 1982 Gladys Towles Root dropped dead. She had a heart attack in a Pomona courtroom. Probably because of her tremendous work load over the last fifty years. She worked 16 hour days and handled 1500 court cases per year. Standing in front of Judge Peter Smith, she said, “Give me a few moments. I’m having trouble breathing.” Then she slumped to the floor.
Even in death Gladys was flamboyant. Prostrate on the floor, Gladys was a vision in radiant shimmering gold. She wore a gold hat, a gold dress and gold high heels.
She was 77 years old.
Why didn’t this woman ever receive credit for who she was? For what she did? She was not only a superb defense attorney, but also a wife and a mother.
What’s the story behind her personal life? Was she a good mother to her two children? A good wife to her two husbands? Or did she sacrifice everything for her career? The story needs to be told.
I searched the internet to see what had been published on her, but could find only two volumes – both short hagiographies – written in the 1960s. On that day, I decided that I would write this woman’s story.