I’ve researched and blogged about two adopted children who became murderers: one of a 4-year-old boy, the other is today’s blog, being Marlene Olive. Although I have not and never will write a whole blog about Ted Bundy the Serial Killer Poster Boy, he had a bizarre mother-son-sister relationship while growing up. When he was into his teens ,Ted’s family revealed that the woman he thought was his mother was actually his grandmother, and the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother. This was a devastating and significant turning point in Bundy’s life, and possibly linked to his later abhorrent behaviour. When Bundy’s mother took over her maternal role, it must have felt not only like a betrayal, but a weird adoption. In these cases, there lies a negative influence of some sort on the child’s sense of belonging in the family and sense of wholeness. Often psychotic or pathological children are not in a nuclear family with a biological mother and father. Of course, the psychosis could already have been there. It could also be that the family treated the adoptee differently than their biological children. This might not have been better or worse treatment. Merely different.
Jim Olive was an Army recruit when he met and wed Naomi Wagner in 1944. The war ended, Jim was discharged, and the couple moved to Panama because Jim hoped to take advantage of its real estate boom. They yearned for a baby. However, marital relations failed to produce one. It was in 1969 that Marlene Olive, aged 10, found her adoption papers in her father’s study. When James Olive explained that she wasn’t their biological child Marlene was devastated and confused. Why didn’t her own mother want her? And why did she call her adoptive mother, Naomi, “Mom”, if she wasn’t? Along with the trauma of discovering she was adopted, Marlene had suffered much unhappiness. For the first six months of Marlene’s life, Naomi became obsessed with cleanliness and insisted that both she and her husband wear surgical masks whenever they approached the baby. The summer after Marlene’s adoption, Jim took a job in Ecuador. The family lived in luxury, yet Naomi didn’t adjust well. She took to heavy drinking and became a paranoid recluse. Naomi’s mental condition deteriorated. She conversed out loud with voices and was seized by fits of inexplicable rage. When Marlene brought home goldfish she won at a fair, Naomi started collecting fish. It seemed to help her. She fed her finned friends and gazed for long periods as they swam. Mother-daughter didn’t do so well. As Marlene approached adolescence, arguments led Marlene to bang her head against a wall or viciously bite her own forearm. She developed scars. In Marlene’s sixth-grade class, the teacher, Mrs. Pasquel, was pregnant. The class discussed motherhood. Marlene raised her hand. “I hate my mother,” she said. One day Marlene asked Mrs. Pasquel how she could find her biological mother. The teacher said she did not know and that it was not important, even though she could see it mattered to Marlene. Jim was fired suddenly from his job in Ecuador and a new job required the family’s move to Colorado in 1965. Marlene was terrified of moving to America. The only thing that came into the sheltered teen’s mind was “drugs,” ironic, considering her current place of residence.
In early 1973, Jim was again fired. Jim found a job in March 1973 for a business management service. The job necessitated a move to Marin County, California. In California, Marlene entered the last term of eighth grade in an unfamiliar environment. Marlene became ever more ashamed of her mother and distressed by hearing her talk with phantoms. The Olive home once again filled with fish to keep Naomi company. Certainly, her father’s inability to keep a job served as another source of stress for the impressionable young girl. When Marlene entered high school, she started stealing. At first shy, Marlene soon plunged into a teenage world centered on hard rock, drugs (marijuana, cocaine, and LSD), alcohol, premarital sex, and the occult. It would seem Naomi’s abuse had taken its toll. Marlene ran with a “fast” group of girls, some of whom were into Satanism, skipping school to have abortions or go to concerts, or even going out with (gasp) black guys. Marlene dove right in, telling friends she was a member of the Church of Satan in nearby San Francisco, that she had been in a porn movie in South America, and that her father controlled the Ecuadorian drug trade. Although slightly overweight, she dressed, quite frankly, like a street-walker: platform shoes, excessive makeup, multi-colored hair and nails, revealing tops, and tight, short skirts. An extremely short pair of Daisy Duke shorts particularly infuriated her mother. She gained a reputation at school as being “loose.” The picture shown above is an actress portraying Marlene.
Marlene was first arrested for shoplifting while still a ninth-grader, so Naomi forbade Marlene to attend a cousin’s wedding. Marlene yelled that her “real mother” would have let her go. Naomi answered, “Your real mother was probably a whore!” Soon after this quarrel, Naomi paraded naked in front of Marlene, gyrating her hips, grabbing her crotch, and taunting Marlene that this was her biological mother’s behaviour.
Marlene was upset that Jim spent little time with her. Marlene thought he neglected her while playing “white knight protector to Naomi.” Marlene’s one constructive activity may have been her poetry. The following example speaks of her intense feelings of loneliness and alienation:
no one stops to step into my life
and those in it have long ago fallen asleep.
I have been empty for so long.
On the day during which someone who would become most significant stepped into Marlene’s life, she sat on the high school lawn. Her first LSD trip was a bad one. Teens teased her. Then a young man who did not attend the school but frequented its lawn selling drugs, intervened. Marlene was grateful to the youth who had just played “white knight protector” to her. In a fog of drugs, Marlene had met Charles “Chuck” Riley, 19, an overweight dropout from that high school who peddled drugs. Born in 1955, he was the first child of homemaker Joanne and grocery clerk Oscar Riley. Little Chuck was a happy, affectionate child. Oscar often took his sons fishing. The fishing place was close to San Quentin prison. If a boy misbehaved, Oscar pointed to that facility and warned he could end up there. Prophetic, perhaps. At school, Chuck was called “Fat Man” and “Boulder.” Kids snidely speculated that he must have a charge account at a local Jack-In-The-Box. Chuck stole and dealt drugs, not so much for money as to impress peers. Although Chuck was infatuated with Marlene she kept him at a distance for several months. Finally she saw him as a blank canvas she could imprint with her dark fantasies.
Marlene’s behaviour deteriorated as disturbingly as Naomi’s mind. Marlene encouraged Chuck to take explicit photos of her she claimed she was going to send in to Penthouse. She made him dress up in a leather mask and whip her. Once she even urinated on his face in front of her friends. Chuck didn’t appear to notice their contempt for both Marlene and Chuck. He continued to be infatuated with her, supplying her with free dope and insisting he would be her slave. Chuck’s friends noticed he had changed; he was no longer upbeat and eager to please. Now he was short-tempered, carried weapons, and ripped people off in his drug dealings. Under Marlene’s tutelage, he lost weight and started to dress in a more hip manner. However, his talk of the occult distressed his friends. Marlene was his first and only girlfriend. Chuck was clearly in over his head. Worse, that winter Marlene started fantasizing about murdering Naomi. Friends dismissed it as normal teenage talk. Her mother was a virtual zombie by this point, locked in her room drinking all day and screaming at her daughter to stop dressing like a whore.
As for Marlene’s father he must have been as disturbed emotionally as his wife and stepdaughter. He could see the extreme deterioration in both Naomi and Marlene. If he tried to take Naomi to a medical doctor for help with her troubled psyche, it isn’t known. He ignored Marlene’s troubles by ignoring Marlene.She still loved her father but had grown tired of waiting for him to “do something” about her mother and pay more attention to her.
In early 1975, Marlene and Chuck commenced a shoplifting spree that netted roughly $6,000 worth of goods. Both were arrested for grand larceny on March 26, 1975 but were soon bailed out by their parents. In June, Marlene’s mother threatened to have Marlene locked in juvenile hall for the summer. Mr. Olive decided he was going to send his daughter away the next year and he forbade Marlene from seeing Chuch anymore. Marlene told Chuck, “My mother must die!” Chuck said he did not want to kill. Marlene insisted that if he loved her he would rescue her from her horrible mother. Marlene also said that if he refused, she would stop seeing him. He agreed to murder Naomi. Marlene set the date. She did not want Jim killed. Marlene made certain she and her father were shopping on June 21, 1975 while her mother stayed home. On that date, Chuck dropped acid, armed himself with a hammer and .22 caliber pistol, and crept into the Olive house. Naomi was in bed. Chuck struck her repeatedly with the claw hammer until it lodged in her skull. She flailed around, so Chuck raced to the kitchen where he fetched a steak knife. He repeatedly stabbed Naomi in the chest. Still not wanting to cause the noise that a gun would, he tried to finish her off by pressing a pillow against her face.The murder that Marlene wanted to be over before she and her father returned from the store was still in progress when they came home. Seeing his wife attacked, Jim grabbed the bloody steak knife from the nightstand and rushed toward Chuck. Chuck pumped four bullets into Jim’s chest. Although Marlene had not intended for Jim to die, she did not mourn him.
Chuck cleaned himself up. They wrapped the corpses in rugs, piled them into Chuck’s car, drove to a rural area known as China Camp, a badlands of sorts frequented by hunters, and cremated the bodies in a cistern. They placed the bodies into an open fire pit, soaked them with gasoline, and set them ablaze. After a few days, Jim’s business partner went to the Olive home. When he looked through a window, he saw what he later reported as a mess inside the house. Believing Jim was the victim of a robbery, the partner called police. The partner told cops, “the couple has not been seen in a week.” Cops found the house in a mess but no blood, so they left a note asking residents to inform authorities if there was a problem. Upon reading the note, Marlene went to the station house. She told detectives that her parents had gone to Lake Tahoe for a brief vacation and were late in returning. Police detected something amiss in her story and closely questioned her. Her story changed. She said her mother had murdered her father and fled. Then she said her father had murdered her mother and fled. Finally, she confessed the truth and led police to the fire pit where the charred remains were. Chuck quickly confessed, saying he committed the murders because Marlene told him to.
On July 10, 1975 both Marlene and Chuck were formally charged with two counts each of first-degree murder. The court ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Marlene. Although examiners described her as very troubled, they deemed her competent to stand trial. If tried as an adult, Marlene could have been executed. A fitness hearing was held in September 1975 in which the judge ruled she be tried as a juvenile. That meant that a conviction would lead to her being confined to the California Youth Authority but released no later than her 21st birthday so that the most she could serve would be a little under four years. Her tender age at the time of her very untender acts meant she would serve her brief sentence at a juvenile facility called the Ventura School. At Ventura, she set out to find facts about her biological mother. A call to the law office of the attorney who had drawn up the adoption papers yielded the name of Marlene’s biological mother. She had not been a prostitute impregnated by a client but a 19-year-old impregnated by a sailor on leave.
Writing in Marin Magazine, Jim Wood states, “With only weeks to go [on her sentence], she escaped from a holding cell” and made her way to New York where she fulfilled Naomi’s prophecy by becoming a prostitute. Her few months of unauthorized freedom meant that a few more months were added to her sentence after she was arrested and returned to California. She was released from the Ventura School in early 1980. Chuck was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 1977.
Marlene became a classic revolving door criminal, regularly arrested for offenses such as credit card fraud. A Los Angeles Times article reported that in the early 1990s, she was a leader of a loose-knit band that culled voided checks and bank statements from trash to use in forgeries. Police called her “Queen of the Trashers.” Chuck and Marlene had one awkward reunion when she visited him in prison in 1980. Chuck predicted afterward, “I’ll never hear from her again.” He never has.