Murder in Sacramento

Murder in Sacramento

He came up to the room. He had the clothes on his arm. He said that he beat a woman on L street out of them, and finally said he got them off Mrs. Gibson. He said he got her drunk and that he “croaked” her. I do not understand what croaked means. He never told me what it meant. He told me he killed the woman, and that the d — old — would not tell any tales on him. I put the clothes on the bed and afterwards on the rocking-chair. They lay there till the next day. There was a watch and a gold locket among the jewelry. The locket was of a small size and carved. I believe the dresses were all wrapped up in one when he brought them in. The jewelry was in the pockets.

— Testimony of Carrie Spencer, San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 1873

After Charles Mortimer was arrested for the brutal murder of Mary Shaw Gibson, the Sacramento police took a photograph of him. That photo, along with a rogues’ gallery photo of Mortimer taken sometime before the murder, may be the earliest example of the police using photography to help convict a criminal suspect.

Carrie Spencer_flatOn the morning of September 20, 1872, a passerby discovered the body of Mrs. Gibson at her Sacramento business. Mrs. Gibson, a 45-year-old widow from Ireland, sold groceries and liquor from the front room of her property on Jibboom Street and lived in the back room. Her head was lying in a pool of blood from a deep knife wound to her neck that had severed her jugular vein. She was fully clothed and there were signs that she had put up a fierce struggle with her assailants, because reddish-brown hairs were found tightly clenched in her hand. The police believed she had pulled the hairs from the beard of her attacker during the deadly assault. Cash had been taken from the dead woman’s pocket and clothing and jewelry were missing from her room. A glass of beer on the bedside table was taken as evidence and later found to contain strychnine.

Suspicion quickly focused on an ex-convict named Charles Mortimer and his prostitute “moll,” Carrie Spencer. The pair had been seen drinking in Mrs. Gibson’s establishment on the day of the murder. Dresses and jewelry belonging to the dead woman were found in the couple’s room at the Mechanic’s Exchange Hotel and Mrs. Gibson’s ring was found in Charles’ possession. Charles claimed he purchased Mrs. Gibson’s belongings from a man named “George.”

Mechnic's hotel

Mechanic’s Exchange Hotel, undated photo, Library of Congress

Most damning of all, Charles had a fresh injury to his face and he was missing some of his whiskers. He’d been to the local barber to get his beard trimmed to try and make the missing facial hair less noticeable. Police also found a partially empty packet of strychnine powder in his pocket.

The couple was arrested for the murder and photographed by the police. A comparison of a pre-murder photo of Charles to one taken shortly after the murder clearly shows that he normally sported a beard and it had recently been shaved off. His facial hair was described as being reddish-brown in color.

Charles Mortimer was born Charles Flinn in 1834 in Vermont. He was the eldest of five brothers. His family moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, when he was still a child. By the time he was 14 he was in the state reform school in Worcester, where he was described as “idle and dissolute.” He moved west around 1860 and served a one-year sentence at San Quentin Prison in 1862 for a robbery he committed in San Francisco.

Another arrest for assault and robbery followed in 1864. At that time Charles claimed to have reformed and offered to show the police where he buried some stolen loot in exchange for leniency. While pointing out the spot to an officer, who bent down to get a better look, Charles knocked him over the head, grabbed his gun and beat him with it until he thought the man was dead, then made his escape. (The officer eventually recovered). The following year he teamed up with another escaped convict and committed a series of robberies under the name George Foster. These crimes landed him back at San Quentin for a seven-year stretch. Shortly after he was released, in 1872, he met Carrie at a dance hall in San Francisco.

In order to save her own skin, Carrie became the chief witness against Charles at the murder trial. He threatened to kill her if she testified against him, but she had little choice but to cooperate with police if she wanted to avoid being charged as an accessory. She pinned the blame squarely on him, claiming that she knew nothing about Mrs. Gibson’s murder until afterwards, when he showed up at their room with the cash, clothing and jewelry.

Charles was convicted and sentenced to hang. After his conviction he told his version of the story to the press in exchange for money to pay his lawyers. He admitted that he hit Mrs. Gibson with a beer mug, cutting her face and causing her to fall over, but it was Carrie, he insisted, who dealt the deathblow by cutting her throat while he held down the victim’s hands.

A month before the execution date an armed stranger tried to enter the Sacramento Jail, where Charles was being held, in the middle of the night. He was shot and killed by the officer guarding the jail entrance. The man was William John Flinn, Charles’ younger brother. Though he hadn’t seen his brother for many years, William traveled more than 3,000 miles from his home in Massachusetts to Sacramento, hoping to rescue Charles from the gallows.

Charles feigned insanity after the death of his brother but it didn’t help his cause. He was hanged on May 15, 1873. It took him 13 minutes to die. He was buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery, near the brother who died trying to save him.

Carrie returned to her previous pimp, James Willis, and resumed her career as a prostitute. In September 1873 she was arrested in Sacramento for trying to entice a young girl into a “house of ill fame.” Later that year, Carrie and James, who had been convicted of vagrancy and asked to leave the city, boarded a train to Stockton. They were seen in San Francisco, where it was reported that James was fined $300 for violently assaulting an African American woman after she refused his offer of drugged beer.

Mrs. Gibson’s family initially was unable to locate her will and were uncertain about how to divide her $13,000 fortune. Her will was finally found in March 1874 among a pile of papers taken from her house. Rather than leaving her estate to all six of her siblings, she left it only to the ones who had followed her instructions and immigrated with her to California, cutting out those who had remained in Ireland.

Featured photo: Charles Mortimer, before and after the murder of Mary Gibson, courtesy of Graham Pilecki.

Photo of Carrie Spencer, courtesy of Graham Pilecki.

His Final Walk

His Final Walk

FASCI TO DIE IN THE SAME WAY AS TWO PALS

 

BELLEFONTE, PA., Dec. 26.— Like John Torti and Tony Burchanti, two of his companions in the Laurel Line robbery and murder near Scranton on July 30, 1923, Paul Fasci will go to his death in the electric chair at Rockview prison Monday morning at 7 o’clock without benefit of clergy.

— The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania), December 27, 1926

Edward Murphy, a salesman for an oil company, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when five men held up the Laurel Line train during its morning run between Moosic and Avoca, Pennsylvania. P.J. Durkin, the motorman, Arch Henshall, the paymaster for the West End Coal Company and another passenger, Philip Scribner, were also shot. All three eventually recovered from their wounds, however Edward, who was reading the morning paper when he was hit with a stray bullet, died instantly.

The bandits grabbed the coal company’s $70,125 payroll cash and headed to their getaway car. Police had little to go in to solve the case, and for a time it seemed as if the men had pulled off the perfect train robbery.

Fasci news photo

1921 police photo (bottom) showing three of the five men (1,2 & 5) suspected of being the Laurel Line train robbers.

After interviewing witnesses, detectives believed that three of the five gang members were in a police photo photograph of a five Italian men taken in 1921. The men in the photo had been arrested in a high-powered car several days after an attempted bank robbery in New Castle, Pennsylvania. None of them could be linked with that holdup attempt, but the photo remained in police criminal identification files.

Paul Fasci_back

Back side of the 1921 photo. John Torti (#5) is identified even though he was cropped out of the photo.

The search was on for three of the men in the photo: Tony Burchanti, Paul Fasci and John Torti.

Tony and John had been employees of the West End Coal Company, the target of the Laurel Line robbery. They quit their jobs shortly before the robbery and never collected their pay.

The trail of the Laurel Line bandits went cold until March 26, 1924, when a gang attempted to rob the $400,000 payroll of the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. The job had a similar M.O. to the Laurel Line heist and Tony was arrested for the attempted robbery.

Next police located John, along with “Big Jack” Stummy and Michael Bassi, in Tiltonsville, Ohio, where the men had gone to pick up their mail. A shootout ensued in which “Big Jack” was killed. John tried unsuccessfully to kill himself and was taken into custody. Michael escaped.

Michael was later arrested in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, for another robbery of a coal company payroll in which a messenger died. He was convicted of first-degree murder and executed at Rockview prison.

Tony and John were convicted of the murder of Edward Murphy and executed in the electric chair at Rockview on June 1, 1925.

Also pictured in the 1921 photo was Paul Fasci. Police believed Paul was the fifth and final suspect in the Laurel Line robbery. Detectives finally located him in a gambling dive in Chicago in February 1925. He was returned to Pennsylvania, where he was tried and convicted of Edward’s murder in early 1926.

Paul told prison officials he didn’t want a priest with him when he went to the death chamber two days after Christmas in 1926. He was resigned to his fate and said goodbye to his brother, Orlando, on Christmas Day. Orlando had fought hard to have Paul’s case reopened but he’d been unsuccessful.

Paul spent his last day on earth alone in his Rockview death house cell with a guard stationed nearby. His hair had already been closely shaved. A plain white shirt, trousers with a slit up one leg and a pair of carpet slippers were laid out, ready for his final walk.

He ate a hearty breakfast and died insisting he was an innocent man.

Featured photo: 1921 police photo of Tony Burchanti (#1), Paul Fasci (#2) and two men not involved in the Laurel Line heist. John Torti (#5) was cropped off the photo. Collection of the author.

The High Cost of Murder

The High Cost of Murder

ARRAIGNED ON MURDER CHARGE

Worcester, Dec. 23. — Henry Gauthier, 28, and Felix Vadenais Jr., 19 years old, were arraigned in the district court today on a charge of murdering Joseph S. Goldberg in Manchaug, Monday night. They pleaded not guilty and the case was continued to Jan. 6 at the request of the government. They were remanded to jail without bail.

Fitchberg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), December 23, 1914

The dead body of Joseph S. Goldberg, wrapped in a horse blanket, was discovered in his wagon by the sheriff on a cold evening in late December 1914. Joseph’s murderer had draped his body over the seat of the horse-drawn wagon and started the rig on the road towards the town of Millbury, Massachusetts.

Joseph, a second-hand clothes peddler, stopped by a drug store in the village of Manchaug around 9:15 pm on the night he was murdered. About fifteen minutes later he was seen heading to a barn where he planned to leave his horse and cart overnight.

His murderer or murderers found him at the barn. He was hit on the head with a blunt object. Then the 35-year-old Jewish Russian immigrant was shot in the chest. The wound was instantly fatal.

Manchaug map

Police believed the motive for the murder was robbery. The day before he was killed, a witness claimed Joseph pulled a large roll of bills out of his pocket while he was making change for a customer. After his death, only six cents was found in his pockets.

Joseph lived with his wife, Dora, and young son, Milton, in the city of Worcester, about 13 miles from where he was killed. Dora was five months pregnant when her husband was murdered.

Two young men, Felix Vadenais and Henry Gauthier were arrested the following day for Joseph’s murder. The men were kept in jail until after the 1915 New Year. Officials then determined that they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Henry, so he was released.

Felix Vandenais_back_marked

Criminal identification card of Felix Vadenais made by the Worcester Police Department.

Felix was charged with murder in the first degree on January 22, 1915.

On April 16, 1915, after a trial lasting 11 days with three hours of deliberation, the jury found Felix not guilty of the murder. Joseph’s daughter, Judith, was born four days later.

Ten days after the jury acquitted Felix of murder, The Boston Globe printed an article about the cost of the trial — $6500 by that date — to the taxpayers of Worcester County. The defendant’s attorneys’ fees, along with a payment for “establishing the case” for Felix were listed at $775. It was expected that the expert witnesses, two professors from Harvard and Tufts, who testified about the blood evidence but had not yet sent in their bills, would cost the county another $7500.

No one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Joseph Goldberg.

Featured photos: mugshots of Felix Vadenais taken by the Worcester Police on December 21, 1914. Collection of the author.

 

 

Irresistible Appeal

Irresistible Appeal

Boise, Idaho.—Lyda Southard, Idaho’s notorious husband poisoner who is charged with having caused the death of seven persons, has not lost her irresistible appeal for men after nearly 10 years spent behind the gray stone wall of the Idaho State Penitentiary. Her recent escape proves that.

 

Love for the “Woman Blue Beard” nearly two years ago led a prison guard, Jack Watkins, to carry a gas pipe ladder into the yard of the women’s prison, across a driveway from the main prison which houses the male prisoners, and bury it in the flower bed.

 

Love for the modern Lucretia Borgia led an ex-convict, David Minton, who was pardoned scarcely three weeks before, to risk his newly regained freedom by assisting her to escape.

Sedalia Weekly Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri), May 22, 1931

It was only a slight exaggeration to claim that Lyda Southard caused the deaths of seven people. The body count was actually six, including four of Lyda’s husbands, her only child, a tiny daughter, and one brother-in-law.

She was born Lyda May Trueblood on October 16, 1892, in the small town of Keytesville, Missouri. In 1912 she married Robert Dooley in Twin Falls, Idaho. Their baby, Lorraine, was born the following year.

Edward Dooley, Robert’s brother, lived with the couple. Edward fell ill and died in 1915. Robert and Lorraine soon followed Edward to the grave. The deaths were said to be due to food poisoning or some common contagious illness — no one looked too closely in those days. Robert and Lyda received the cash from Edward’s life insurance policy, and Lyda got that, along with the money from Robert’s policy after his death. The amount wasn’t large — a couple thousand dollars total.

The baby wasn’t insured, but she was a burden and wouldn’t help Lyda snag another husband, so apparently she had to go too.

A slight, perky woman with dark, curly hair, blue eyes, and a ready smile, Lyda was no a great beauty but she had a pleasant face and a talent for attracting men. After her brother-in-law, first husband and baby died, she acquired three more husbands in rapid succession. Each one died of supposed “natural causes,” and each left Lyda a tidy life insurance settlement. Red flags didn’t go up until Edward Meyer, a previously healthy 35-year-old Twin Falls ranch foreman, died three weeks after his marriage to Lyda in 1920.

Lyda news editorial

Tongues began to wag when Lyda collected the insurance money, sold her property and left town shortly after putting Edward into the ground. Twin Falls Sheriff, E.R. Sherman, assigned his deputy, Virgil “Val” Ormsby, to investigate Edward’s death. Ormsby’s search led to one of Lyda’s homes and a basement full of flypaper coated with arsenic. The bodies of Lyda’s husbands and her brother-in-law and child were exhumed and autopsied. All the adults’ bodies were all found to contain arsenic.

The police hunt was on for the one person connected to all the men, now presumed to be murder victims — Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer. By the time she was located she had added another husband to her list.

She was found in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the side of husband number five, Paul Southard. She had tried and failed to get Paul, a Naval Officer, to take out life insurance on himself with his blushing new bride as the beneficiary.

Lyda_Southard mugshotProfessing her innocence, she agreed to return to Idaho, where she was tried and found guilty of murder in the second degree for the death her fourth husband, Edward Meyer. Prosecutors also submitted evidence that Lyda killed the other men using tea and lemonade laced with arsenic. Sentenced to 14 years to life, off to the Idaho State Penitentiary Lyda went. Paul Southard filed for divorce.

For the next ten years, Lyda sat in prison, planning her next adventure. On a moonlit night in May 1931, she cut the bars on her cell window using a saw provided by Jack Watkins, a prison guard who’d become smitten with her. (Jack died before her escape, presumably of natural causes). A ladder, buried earlier near the prison wall by Jack, allowed Lyda to scale the 16-foot wall, and a rope, made of torn blankets tied to heavy flower boxes, helped her reach the ground on the other side. There she leaped into the waiting arms of David Minton, an ex-con who’d recently been released from the same penitentiary. David had fallen in love with “Mrs. Bluebeard” and risked his newly gained freedom to break her out of prison. He had a car waiting nearby and the pair sped away.

 

The romance with David didn’t last long (though he survived it and was eventually arrested for his part in Lyda’s escape). She remained free for the next 15 months, during which time she married her sixth husband, Harry Whitlock, in Denver. But by July 1932, Harry had gotten wise to Lyda’s identity and, perhaps worried for his own safety, he turned her in. He arranged to have her go to a post office in Topeka, Kansas, where police were waiting — they sent her back to the penitentiary. Harry applied for the $500 reward offered for his wife’s arrest.

Before she returned to prison, a reporter asked Lyda how she’d been so successful at getting men to marry her. A smile played at her lips as she replied, “I don’t care to answer that.” The reporter persisted. He wanted to know if she confessed to murdering any of her husbands at her trial. “No,” was her answer. “Did you ever feel as if you wanted to?” wondered the reporter. “No, I never felt I was guilty,” was Lyda’s cleverly worded response.

She was given a six-month probationary release from the penitentiary on October 2, 1941, and moved to Oregon to live with a sister. Her full pardon came a year and a half later. It was rumored that Lyda married for a seventh time in the 1940s. If true, her husband was a brave man.

In 1958 Lyda, aged 65, collapsed on a city street in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ten minutes later she was dead of a heart attack.

Featured photos: Left: News photo of Lyda Trueblood, taken before her trial in Twin Falls, Idaho, October 6, 1921. Right: News photo of Lyda with her captors, Deputy Sheriff Val Ormsby, rear left, and Sheriff E.R. Sherman, rear right, same date and location.

 

Murder for Gold

Murder for Gold

GRANT’S PASS, Or., Sept. 28.—The body of William Dunlap, an old pioneer and miner, was found near his cabin yesterday. The old man had been shot and evidently murdered, as his cabin had been looted.

 

Dunlap lived alone on Louse Creek, where he has resided for 30 years past, making his living by working his Placer claim. It has been the supposition that he had considerable gold buried in or near his cabin and it was probably to find this that the old man was murdered. He had been dead four or five days when found and the murderer had ample time to escape. Officers are working on the case, but have not the slightest clew.

Morning Register (Eugene, Oregon), September 30, 1903

William Dunlap was murdered in September 1903, but it took much longer for police to arrest his killers. The body of the gold miner and Civil War veteran was found in the doorway of his remote cabin near Grants Pass in southern Oregon shortly after he was shot and killed.

It took a year and a half for a teenager named Lloyd Ingram to go to police and admit what he knew about the murder. Andy Ingram, Lloyd’s father had put the fear of god into the young man to keep his mouth shut.

Forty-year-old Andy was the “author of the plot” to kill William. As police had surmised, money was the motive for the crime — Andy believed that William had a stash of gold hidden under the cabin floorboards. To help him carry out the murder he enlisted his 26-year-old cousin, Andrew Dodson.

Grants Pass

Grants Pass, Oregon, circa 1915

Andrew had the better people skills of the two men, so he befriended the aged gold miner. After a couple of visits to his cabin by the younger man, William was lulled into believing Andrew was really his friend. On the third visit, Andrew brought his rifle and shot the old man in the chest in cold blood. He joined Andy in the nearby town of Grants Pass to establish an alibi, then they returned to the cabin that night. The pair looted the place, but all they found was $12.

It turned out that William was no fool. He kept the proceeds from his mining labors in the First National Bank of Grants Pass.

Lloyd had overheard his father and Andrew planning the murder. He admitted to Andy that he followed Andrew on the day of the crime and saw him enter William’s cabin with the loaded rifle.

After hearing what his son had to say, Andy forced Lloyd to go to the cabin and search William’s body. Andy thought the shock of seeing the dead body would shut the boy up, and it did. He also convinced him that he’d be implicated in the murder if anyone found out what happened. So Lloyd kept quiet, at least for a while.

By 1905, Lloyd was unable to keep his terrible secret any longer. He went to the police and told them what he knew. Andy and Andrew were arrested.

Andrew admitted he fired the shot that killed William, saying his conscience was bothering him so much that he hoped for the shortest route to the gallows. He got it — he was sentenced to hang on August 11, 1905. But he insisted that it was not he but Andy who had planned the murder.

When one man is the brains behind a murder plot but another man pulls the trigger, who’s the “real criminal” wondered a reporter for a newspaper covering the case.

Andy pleaded not guilty and went to trial. His son’s testimony helped convict him of second-degree murder. He got a life sentence in prison.

Andrew didn’t die on the gallows. There was a public outcry over the decision to hang the shooter while the plotter was allowed to live, so the governor commuted Andrew’s death sentence to life in prison. Due to failing eyesight, he was pardoned in 1915 after serving ten years.

Lloyd developed problems as an adult and became addicted to alcohol, opium and morphine. He went to jail for petty larceny. In 1919 he was committed to the California State Psychiatric Hospital in Stockton.

Andy escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1918.  He was recaptured in 1922 while attempting to burglarize a store in Portland and returned to the penitentiary with time added to his sentence. In 1934, 71-year-old Andy was given a conditional pardon. At some point he was again sent back to the penitentiary (apparently his pardon was revoked) where he died of heart disease in March 1948. No one from his family claimed his cremains and they were buried at the Oregon State Hospital Cemetery.

Featured photo: news photo of undated mugshot of Andy (A.M.) Ingram, alias John Watson. Collection of the author.

New Dillinger Molls

New Dillinger Molls

Brady gave me a diamond. I always considered we were married. He didn’t kill a policeman. He was sweet and kind. He was good to me. He slept like a baby at night. I love him. I’ll marry him, even if I go to jail, to the electric chair or to hell.

— Margaret Barry, quoted in The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana), June 12, 1937

Margaret Barry Larson met gangster Al Brady during “the whirl of Mardi Gras” in February 1936. The pair took a shine to each other, so 24-year-old Margaret dumped her husband and small son and headed north with Al.

brady_fbi_photo

Al Brady

Alfred James “Al” Brady got his start in crookery in 1930 at the age of 20 when he stole a car, was caught and sent to the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton. Prisons are good places to learn how to commit crime and Al was an excellent student. After his release he recruited a group of like-minded young men, including Clarence Lee Shaffer and James Dalhover, to join his gang of thieves and killers. Al’s goal was to fill John Dillinger’s shoes. (Dillinger, a fellow Hoosier, had been killed by G-men in 1934.) Often driving stolen cars, the Brady gang pulled off more than 200 armed robberies, killed four lawmen and a civilian and wounded many others between 1935 and 1937.

Margaret Barker newsWith Margaret in tow the gang went to Ohio in March 1936. There they held up jewelry and grocery stores. In the course of robbing one grocery store, Al killed a young store clerk in cold blood. The gang escaped to Indianapolis but was traced there by police. During an attempt to arrest them, Sergeant Richard Rivers of the Indianapolis Police Department was shot and killed by one of the gang. They fled to Chicago with their loot, valued at $68,000.

Al and Margaret spent the next few days together at a Chicago hotel. Police located them and took the lovebirds into custody on April 30, 1936. James was also arrested in Chicago and Clarence was captured in Indianapolis.

Some of the loot was found in the gang’s safe deposit box in Chicago, however James revealed to police that a group of armed Chicago gangsters had stolen a portion of the takings from gang’s various holdups. About $6000 of the booty was discovered in the home of jewelry salesman Jack Becker, who rented the deposit box for the gang and acted as their fence. Becker and his wife Laura, who were considered to be part of the Brady gang, were arrested.

Margaret and Laura were described in the news as being the “new Dillinger molls.”

According to James, the gang was captured because Margaret insisted Al stay one more night with her at their Chicago hotel. When a man makes a serious error in judgement it makes sense to blame a woman, right?

Margaret, who’d been held on a vagrancy charge, was released from custody and reportedly went to work at a Chicago tavern. Despite her proclamations of eternal devotion and her professed willingness to follow Al to hell, the two never saw each other again.

Brady shootout

Bodies of Al Brady (closer to camera) and Clarence Lee Shaffer after the Bangor shoot out. Bangor Daily News.

Al, Clarence and James were sent back to Indiana to face a murder charge for the death of Officer Rivers. On October 11, 1936, all three men escaped from the jail where they were held. They spent the next 12 months committing a spree of robberies, primarily on the east coast, culminating in a shoot out with the FBI in Bangor, Maine, on October 12, 1937. Al and Clarence were killed in the gun battle — the bloodiest in Maine’s history. James was returned to prison in Indiana, where he was electrocuted the following year.

Featured photo: Margaret Barry (in hat), Laura Becker (seated) and policewoman Mary Henneberry, April 30, 1936. Collection of the author.

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Continued from Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the murder of Marshal Hugh Myers in May 1900, though everyone agreed he was not the man who pulled the trigger.

As part of the Curtis Act, a federal law that resulted in the break up of tribal governments, Pink, his mother, Rose, and his siblings were enrolled as members of the Chickasaw Nation in 1898. Rose, born in 1842, had been the slave of Holmes Colbert, according to her Dawes card. As Chickasaw Freedmen, Rose and her children each received an allotment of 40 acres of land in Indian Territory in 1906. The following year Indian Territory merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma.

Pink’s 40 acres, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, was in the center of an oil belt and had value far beyond ordinary farmland. It was worth about $1000 — a fortune for a man in his circumstances.

The Leavenworth warden received many letters from people on the outside who wanted Pink’s allotment. Some claimed, incorrectly, that it was about to be sold for back taxes.

Moman Pruiett

Moman Pruiett, find-a-grave

Pink’s attorney at his murder trial was an ex-criminal with a violent streak named Moman Pruiett. Moman was a talented but controversial criminal lawyer who bragged that of the 343 murder cases in which he’d defended the accused, 303 of his clients were acquitted. Unfortunately for Pink, he was one of Moman’s 40 clients who’d been convicted.

Moman probably had saved Pink from the hangman’s noose, but he claimed Pink owed him his allotment in payment for both his legal representation during the trial and as payment for work on a pardon or commutation of his sentence — prior to actually achieving a result. Pink tried desperately from prison to hold onto the only thing he had of value, and he refused to turn his allotment over to Moman Pruiett or anyone else.

The third suspect in the Myers murder, Ben Cage, using the alias Floyd or Walter Alexander, was jailed for drunkenness in Wewoka, Oklahoma, in July 1915. While in jail Ben boasted that he was the triggerman for the Myers murder. It was reported that Ben was tried in August 1915, but there was no record of his conviction and imprisonment. More than 15 years elapsed since the crime occurred, and in order to try him the court had to rely mostly on transcripts from Pink’s trial.

Pink’s sentence was commuted in March 1917 and he was released from Leavenworth. Lawyer Pruiett and E.G. Hall, an Oklahoma City businessman appointed his “first friend” out of prison, fought over the title to Pink’s land. It’s unclear which man finally managed to get his hands on Pink’s allotment, but without a doubt one of them did.

He dropped his nickname and returned to using his given name — Legus — after he was released from prison. Over the years he worked as a porter in a Muskogee grocery store, a laborer for a soft drink company in Oklahoma City and finally ended up living with a cousin and farming in Econtuchka, Oklahoma.

100 years has passed since Pink’s release from prison and Econtuchka is now a ghost town. Legus “Pink” Bruner’s burial place is unknown.

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s second Leavenworth Penitentiary mugshot, taken prior to his release in 1917, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.