There was no murder suspect on the stand, no litigation for a princely liability sum, just a court inquiry to determine if there was evidence a woman lied. Yet it ranks among the most expensive cases Los Angeles county ever prosecuted.
In essence, the case started with Aimee Semple McPherson’s disappearance from a California beach in May 19, 1926. Five weeks later she reappeared in a Mexican town on June 23, 1926, telling a story of abduction for ransom. The Christian evangelist was finally able to escape her captors, traveling a half day and night for 20 miles through the Mexican desert. Appearing in the Los Angeles court, under oath, she pressed her complaint, but the authorities would not believe her. Aided by the press, they instead launched a massive newspaper and police investigation to collect evidence disproving her story. If successful, McPherson would be charged with perjury.
The 1926 grand jury inquiry rapidly attracted national attention and roped in several defendants besides McPherson. They were at last charged and arrested with a formal jury trial set for January, 1927. Charges were: Criminal conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals; to prevent and obstruct justice; and to prevent the due administration of the laws; and of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to commit the crime of subordination of perjury. The tediously long phrase of charges, part of which can be interpreted as vague and unspecified offenses, gives one an idea of how difficult and convoluted the case became. The subsequent jury trial, if successful, could result in a punitive prison sentences of up to 42 years.
However, the prosecution’s case unraveled when problems developed with their witnesses and evidence under cross examination. The judge dismissed the case against McPherson and the other defendants before it went to formal jury trial.
The six month prosecution of McPherson through the 1926 inquiry cost $500,000 Adjusting for inflation for 2014 US dollars; that is $6,700,000.
By comparison, the following cases were became fully engaged jury trials (not just an inquiry to determine the existence of evidence):
The McMartin preschool trial starting in 1984 lasted seven years and cost taxpayers $15 million. (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars= $34,000,000).
–1969 trial ended of Sirhan B. Sirhan $590,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=$3,800.000
–1971 trial of Charles Manson lasted 10 months and cost taxpayers $770,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars= $4,500,000)
–1976 trial ended of William and Emily Harris (Symblonese Liberation Army) $880,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=$3,660,000).
–1983 trial ended of Angelo Buono (Hillside Strangler) $1,540,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=$3,660,000
–1989 trial ended of Richard Ramirez (Night Stalker) $1,810,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=3,460,000).
Only the following rank as more expensive than the 1926 People vs Aimee Semple McPherson:
–1990 trial ended of Virginia McMartin(Tried with Peggy McMartin Buckey and Raymond Buckey) $13,230,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=23,990,000
–1995 trial ended of O.J. Simpson $9,040,000 (estimated adjust for 2014 US dollars=$14,062,000
A link to this calculator was used to estimate the cost in 2014 dollars. There are other inflation calculators and they may vary in result, but whatever one used, the results are useful for comparison.