Henry Adolph Busch: The Killer Who Claimed The Movie “Psycho” Made Him Do It

Psycho (1960), Anthony Perkins/publicity photo [promotional image]

SAN QUENTIN, CA — On June 6, 1962, 30-year-old Hollywood optical technician Henry Adolph “Sonny” Busch breathed his last inside the gas chamber at California’s San Quentin prison.

A judge and jury condemned Busch to die for the murders of three Los Angeles women, including his own aunt. He also nearly killed a fourth victim.

Henry Busch did not deny his role in the slaughters. He copped to all of them and admitted that he’d been waiting for years to indulge on the homicidal impulses that long tormented him. He did, however, blame his finally acting out on director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic, Psycho.

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A casual observer might conclude that Busch’s early life played a key role in developing his lethal rage. He endured a brutal childhood in foster care, followed by a miserable adolescence in which he was violently bullied over his scrawny physique and facial deformities. Feeling rejected and betrayed by his mother who put him into the foster-care system, Busch reportedly grew up neglected and abused by Mae E. Busch, his much older half-sister who eventually adopted him.

Psycho (1960) official movie poster/Universal publicity [promotional image]

In addition, Busch regularly suffered blinding migraine headaches and he could not maintain enough concentration to graduate school. Even the Army couldn’t handle Busch and, after a short stint, he was dishonorably discharged.

Therefore, it’s reasonable to wonder if perhaps undiagnosed brain issues may have been a factor as well. Nonetheless, Busch stuck by his Psycho story. He said the movie made him do it, despite that fact that he first killed on May 2, 1960, months before actually seeing the film for the first time.

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Elmira Myrtle Miller, a 72-year-old neighbor who Busch had known his whole life, fell prey first. She invited 28-year-old Henry over one Sunday evening to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. Once the program ended, Busch said he could not resist the urge to attack his elderly friend.

Busch jumped Miller from behind and strangled her to death. Afterward, he tore her clothes to create false evidence of a sex crime. Busch slipped out and, for months, the police had no leads.

From there, Busch laid low, working as a lens polisher and repairman. His bosses described him as a “good employee.”

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Then, on September 2, 1960, Busch invited Shirley Payne, a 65-year-old neighbor of his adopted mother, out to a movie. They went to see Psycho. Following the film, Payne went home with her, and the pair had sex. When she turned away, Busch again attacked from behind and fatally strangled her. He stored Payne’s body in a waterproof sleeping bag under his sink.

The following night, Busch visited Margaret Briggs, an aunt he previously professed to love very much. After hours of watching television, Busch reportedly wanted to confide in Aunt Margaret about killing Payne, but Briggs said she was too tired to talk and got up to go to bed. The once affectionate nephew strangled his aunt on the spot. He then cut Briggs’ clothes off and may have burned her body with cigarettes.

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The very next day, Busch drove his aunt’s car to work and invited Magdalena Parra, a 49-year-old fellow lens technician, out for coffee. Upon getting into the car, Busch lunched at Parra, but a couple of nearby truck drivers caught wind of her kicking and screaming.

The truckers stormed the vehicle. Busch bolted but only ran a short distance before surrendering himself to the Samaritans. Police showed up shortly thereafter.

At first, the cops were ready to nail Busch solely for trying to swipe Parra’s purse. The killer confessed, though, and came clean about all three murders. He even said he’d been eyeballing his landlady as his next target.

And, of course, Busch also claimed Psycho — especially the famous “shower scene” — had served as his prime motivation.

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Al Matthews, a prominent L.A. defense attorney, took Busch’s case. He entered a plea of insanity, stating that while Busch may have known what he was doing was wrong, the suspect acted on an “irresistible impulse” and should there be judged “innocent of criminal intent because he was still under the influence of the movie horror story.”

The jury didn’t buy it. In short order, Busch was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of his aunt; second-degree murder in cases of Elmira Miller and Shirley Payne; and the attempted murder of Magdalena Parra.

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Lawyers attempted to argue that Busch should be declared insane right up to the date of his execution. Ultimately, Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown — an outspoken opponent of capital punishment — opted not to intervene in the case of Henry Adolph Busch.

Before and since that 1962 execution, countless millions of individuals have watched the motion picture Psycho and managed not to murder anyone.

Read more:
Executed Today
Stanford Law Library
Memory: Fragments of a Modern History

Main photo: Psycho (1960), Anthony Perkins/publicity photo [promotional image]