Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Second Suspect at Ardenwald


William Riggin - 1915

In May of 1917, William Riggin was serving out a sentence in the State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon for stealing a gun in 1915. Riggin was a well known thief and had been first convicted of stealing a horse when he was eleven years-old. For that crime he went to the reformatory in Salem and after his release, was arrested for larceny and served his first term in the Pen. His reputation for being a thief was so great that the Washington County Sheriff decided to take him to the town of Hillsboro, Oregon in an attempt to clear up some other thefts. Much to the surprise of the Sheriff, Riggin blurted out “you want me for the Booth murder!”

William Booth had been shot and killed in 1915. It was two weeks after the shooting that Riggin was arrested for stealing a gun. Booth’s wife and an alleged lover had been convicted of killing Booth as a means to get him out of the way. They had been convicted on purely circumstantial evidence that hinged entirely on the alleged affair, which was all but proven to be a fantasy of the populace. Riggin’s confession was corroborated when he lead the Sheriff to the exact location where he had buried the murder weapon, a .38 pistol. In his confession, Riggin felt his crime had been justified because Booth “always had it in for [him]” and he freely confessed to being the trigger man. Perhaps feeling the weight of that crime lifting, he made another statement to the Sheriff that he had been involved in the murders of the Hill family at Ardenwald. This was shocking for a couple reasons: first, Riggin volunteered the information completely of his own volition, and second, he had never been a suspect in the crime. He actually made two confessions within a span of about two months in 1917. With his first confession he stated he was the lookout for two others who went into the house and did the killing. His two companions where Charles Brown and William Flynn. The name William Flynn was an alias of Ed Ramsey’s and no one is quite sure if Charles Brown actually existed. He stated he never went into the house and that when it all was over, the three split off and met the next day in an area about five miles south of the Hill’s house. This confession was short and vague on some details and wrong about others.

His second confession was much more detailed and those details were correct. Charles Brown disappeared and this time it was only he and Ramsey who took part. He still wouldn’t say he had actually killed anybody but he admitted he had been inside the house. Riggin’s presence in Ardenwald at the time of the murders was corroborated by his family as was his association with Ed Ramsey. Was Riggin’s first confession an attempt at notoriety and his second confession the result of coaching? Details that changed from statement to statement were pretty big. In the first confession he was one of three men, Brown took the axe from the woodshed (wrong), he never went into the house and all three escaped in different directions on foot, Brown and Ramsey going one way and Riggin the other. In the second confession he was one of two men, he stole the axe from a house on the way to the crime scene (correct), he was in the house after the murders were over and he and Ramsey walked some distance to their waiting horses before splitting up. In both confessions the motive was robbery and the killers entered and exited through the back door (correct). To further confuse things, Riggin made another statement to the D.A. in 1918 re-implicating Brown and gave his reason for omitting him in the second confession as trying to protect an old friend who had “always been good to him.” Even more confusing is the fact that Brown was an alias of Charlie Daniels (!) who did exist and was an inmate at the same reformatory in Salem when Riggin was there! I’m going to write on Charlie Daniels in my next post. For those of you who may be wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about suspects in a crime I myself have declared to be unrelated to the Midwest Axe Murders, I leave you with this: I may be wrong.

*Confessions and mug shot of William Riggin taken from Why Some Men Kill by George A. Thatcher
*On vacation next week, no posting

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The first suspect at Ardenwald


Ed Ramsey

On June 18, 1911, Ed Ramsey (aka Fredrick Alexander) was picked up while crossing the Willamette River on a raft. Ramsey was a well known vagrant who lived in Scott Woods. He was known to local young boys as “Nutty Ed” and reportedly liked to entice boys to his camp where he would sexually assault them. He worked off and on at various jobs but mostly remained a vagrant in the woods surrounding the Portland area. The day he was arrested, his physical description was given as 5’ 7”, 145 lbs. His given age was fifty-five. When asked where he was the night of June 8, he replied that his memory was bad and couldn’t recall. The local sheriff had been trying to catch him for theft for a while and it was reported that many people were afraid of him due to his peculiar behavior. An affidavit was made by a couple who lived near the Hills stating they saw a man walking on the road away from Ardenwald around 7:00 p.m. on the night of the murder. He appeared to be a vagrant and he was agitated and muttering to himself. The woman heard this man say “Damn her, I’ll ____ [sic] her yet.” Now I don’t know how much faith to put in this affidavit. I don’t want to smear the couple that signed it but it was made in 1915, coincidentally around the same time that Ramsey was arrested for vagrancy. The couple was taken to the jail and IDed Ramsey as the man they saw on the road that day. I have to acknowledge this may not be on the up-and-up. Did the couple make these affidavits before or after IDing Ramsey? I believe there is a discrepancy in the affidavit. The couple described the man as being “about 50 years old and medium height and fairly heavy set and looked as if he had not been shaved for a month.” The mug shot above corresponds to this description almost exactly; it was taken in 1915. The description of Ramsey when picked up ten days after the murders is not one of a heavy set man but one of average weight and height at best. I don’t doubt the couple saw a vagrant walking around that day but the possibility is very high they signed the affidavit after identifying Ramsey in the jail in 1915. Thrown into the mix is a detective that never got paid the $2000 billed to the county due to the fact no one was ever caught and you’ve got all the makings of a couple of coached witnesses. Ramsey apparently went to grand jury in 1915 for the Hill murders but the D.A. (who didn’t try very hard) failed to get an indictment.

In spite of all this, I’m not willing to say Ramsey didn’t do it. But I’m not entirely sure he did. His alleged pedophilia was for young boys and not young girls. Philip Rintule was not assaulted beyond the blows that killed him while the females in the house were. His previous MO didn’t show a penchant for violent apprehension of his alleged victims and the worst thing the Sheriff was trying to get him for was theft. If he had been a violent pedophile I’m sure he would have been run out of town long before the Hill’s were murdered, wouldn’t he? The people in 1911 didn’t take pedophilia any lighter than we do today, aside of course from the cultural differences like child brides (which is horrible in any epoch but you have to acknowledge the differences in mind set). That said, you don’t go from theft to mass homicide, rape and sodomy over night, but maybe Ramsey did.

*Mug shot and affidavits taken from Why Some Men Kill by George A. Thatcher

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is One of These Scenes Not Like the Other?

On September 30, 1911, the Colorado Springs Gazette ran a brief snippet titled “Recalls Oregon Murders.” It tells of nine victims being killed with an axe or hatchet in the Portland area. By my count it was eight and I’m not sure where the ninth victim comes from. This wouldn’t be the only time the Springs Gazette would play loose with details. For example, in the Sep. 30 article the Gazette lists the similarities as “a hatchet was used, and the heads and faces were beaten to an unrecognizable mass.” In the November 10 issue of the same paper it is reported that the two crimes were “similar in every detail to the murders committed in Colorado Springs.” That, as you will see, was not true. The Sheriff from Portland did visit Colorado Springs in order to compare notes with investigators and it was reported that Sheriff Robert Stevens believed the two to be connected at that time but later it seems he had changed his mind. What were the similarities?

In both murders the weapons, axes, had been picked up at or on the way too the crime scenes. All of the victims were killed in their beds while asleep which means the crimes occurred late at night or early in the morning. The UNSUB washed his hands on the scene in both crimes and the murder weapon was “placed” at the crime scene after the murders. I say placed to differentiate from “dropped” or “thrown away.” The wounds were similar in nature. Overkill was definitely present but not severe overkill of the type seen in Fall River, 1892. In fact, Ruth Hill was hit with only one powerful blow starting diagonally from her right eye to her left jaw. The most severe overkill was directed at the children, particularly young Dorothy. She received three blows, each of which was instantly fatal, two on the front of her skull and one on the back. Philip Hill appeared to have been beaten with a bare fist first before being struck with the flat side of the axe and killed. This type of non-overkill overkill ™ was also present in Colorado Springs.

With those similarities there are some key differences. Along with the murders, the Hills had been robbed. Enough items were taken and evidence left of robbery for the Sheriff to believe robbery was the motive. Neither the Burnham’s nor Wayne’s had anything of note stolen from their homes and even had items of value sitting in plain sight. Both female victims in Ardenwald had been raped (whether or not it was post-mortem is not clear) and then sodomized. This was not an element of the Colorado Springs crimes. The bodies of the Hill family had clearly been handled by the UNSUB(s) post-mortem with bloody fingerprints found all over their bodies. No such handling was evident in Colorado Springs. In Colorado Springs, the most sever overkill was directed at the adults, specifically the most threatening adult in each crime scene, May Burnham and Henry Wayne. The children were killed with one blow each. The bodies of at least the Burnham’s and possibly the Wayne’s were covered. Usually this indicates some type of remorse on the part of the UNSUB and there was no such remorse at the Hill house.

So were these crimes done by the same UNSUB? IMHO, no. I’m no detective or profiler but certain things don’t fit, primarily the wounds to the bodies and to whom the most sever damage was done. In Colorado, the adults were attacked the most severely and the children were attacked as a means of taking complete control of the crime scene. In Ardenwald the adults appear to have been killed in order to get control of the children. Overkill was present on William Hill and the two children but not on Mrs. Hill who was killed with one powerful blow to the head. The bodies of both children and Ruth Hill were handled after they were murdered demonstrating a need to control and manipulate those bodies and the rape and sodomy of Mrs. Hill and Dorothy Rintule reinforces this belief. As I have said before, I believe at least the body of May Burnham had been posed after death which also demonstrates a need to control but she was not sexually assaulted in the traditional sense. The covering of the bodies in Colorado shows remorse by the UNSUB and indicates he may still have seen them as people and that any posing done was for his own twisted pleasure and not to humiliate the victim. The displaying of the bodies in Ardenwald shows how the UNSUB detested his victims and felt the need to treat them like garbage. This post ran longer than I thought it would so I’ll get to the suspect(s) in a later post.

*Description of Ardenwald crime scene taken from Why Some Men Kill, by George A. Thatcher

Monday, February 25, 2008

Was Colorado Springs the First?



In July of 2006, Beth Klingensmith wrote a research paper about the Midwest Axe Murders and the theory put forward by M. W. McClaughry, the fingerprint expert who investigated the Villisca crime. It is a brief summery of the murders included in his theory and some “outlying” cases he didn’t include. The report is available here.

Ms. Klingensmith sums up a murder that occurred in Ardenwald, Oregon in June of 1911. I want to discuss that and one other over the next few days.

William Hill had married the widow Ruth C. Rintule and taken on the raising of her two children, Philip, 8, and Dorothy, 6. In May of 1911, the Hills moved to the little community of Ardenwald, south of Portland and near the Southern Pacific rail line in an area known as Scott Woods. Then as today, Ardenwald was a suburb of Portland, and while it may have no relation whatever, there is a small, wooded park on the west end of Ardenwald named Scott Park. William Hill began to build a cabin for his family and they moved into it in late May or early June before it was completed but it had walls, roof and doors so it was habitable. On the afternoon of June 8, 1911, Ruth took the electric line north to Portland to see her brother and father at their law firm. It was reported she was very agitated but she apparently never told her family why. On the morning of June 9, the neighbor, Mrs. Matthews, called on the family out of concern for the quiet look of the house. The windows were covered with clothing and cloth and the front door was locked. Mrs. Mathews entered through the unlocked back door and made the grisly discovery of the Hills bodies. Details vary on where each of the bodies where found. One source says William and Ruth were found in separate rooms and the children in one bed, another says all were found in their beds and insinuates the children were in separate beds. The axe had been stolen from a neighbor’s side steps and was found resting against Dorothy’s bed and there was a bowl of bloody water found inside the house. Philip had fingerprints on his right arm and other bloody prints were found on the bodies showing the killer had handled the bodies at some point. Both Mrs. Hill and her daughter, Dorothy, had been “assaulted in outrageous fashion” which is to say they had been raped but, according to one source I have, it appears both female victims had also been sodomized with a foreign object. Nothing I have found describes the bodies being covered or the presence of a chimneyless lamp.

The community was in a panic upon the crime’s discovery. Doors were reinforced and locks were bought. Guns sat loaded at the headboard of beds and neighbors took night-watches for one another. Posses went into Scott Woods and began clearing out the vagrants and hobos known to populate it. From Ms. Klingensmith’s report:
Numerous suspects were arrested, one for bothering women, another, a vagrant, a third a survivor of an axe assault in 1898. Two youths implicated a traveling partner before cross-examination of the story broke down.
My next post will look at this crime in comparison with Colorado Springs and I want to introduce you to that “vagrant” who was arrested. He is indeed a person of interest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Funerals and a Movie

As would be the case in towns across the Midwest, hundreds of people, some of them family and friends, gathered at the morgue to watch the coffins be loaded into the hearse and follow the procession to the cemetery. It was the afternoon of September 21, 1911 and drama ensued when Arthur Burnham’s mother-in-law “threw her arms about Burnham’s neck and sobbed, ‘He’s innocent! Oh, I know he’s innocent!’” The cemetery was crowded by morbid onlookers as the caskets were lowered into the ground. Nellie and John were placed in a single, white casket and buried next to their mother. Arthur Burnham was still in police custody and was allowed to attend his family’s funeral but was returned to his cell that evening.

Perhaps while the Burnham funeral was taking place the battered bodies of the Wayne family were loaded on a train and shipped east and arrived in Medaryville, Indiana Saturday evening, the 23rd. The caskets were opened for an informal viewing that night and on the following morning the Wayne family was laid to rest in the Medaryville Cemetery with a slightly smaller crowd in attendance. I am having a bit of trouble locating the actual graves so any help is appreciated.

Arthur Burnham was admitted to St. Francis Hospital in November of 1911 suffering from the late stages of TB. While there, he received a telegram from his father-in-law who was working in Mexico at the time. Mr. Hill had just heard about his daughter and grandchildren’s fates and offered any assistance he could. On January 26, 1912, Arthur J. Burnham was re-admitted and knew he was going to die soon. He died alone at St. Francis Hospital. Ultimately it was TB and asthma that killed him but he also suffered from Bright’s disease which hastened it along. He reportedly died at 7:00 in the morning as the nurse entered his room. He was buried near his family on February 7, 1912. I have entered the burials of the two families at Find-A-Grave and you can use the search box at the bottom of the page to view those entries. I haven’t any photos of the graves themselves and if anyone would like to assist with that, I would be grateful.

I am also scouring and scraping for a lost film. In November of 1911, residents of Colorado Springs who had visited Chicago, which at the time was the movie making capital of the world, reported seeing film about the Springs murders. Apparently film crews arrived on the scene shortly after the murders were discovered and these films were shown in Chicago. The films were reported to show Arthur Burnham leaving his house escorted by police and showed the throngs of spectators around the two little cottages. It appears this was an actual film and not just a newsreel as those who saw it reported the film to “realistic in the extreme.” There were so many Chicago based film companies in 1911 that it’s hard to know where to start. My first guess is the legendary Essanay Studios who made a LOT of Westerns in the Colorado Springs area and may have had cameras in the area already. While this film may not be all that important for investigative purposes it might quite an interesting thing to see.

Special thanks to Thomas VanCamp for the Colorado Springs Gazette article about the film.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Profiling



Back in 2005, when I first started studying these crimes, I thought about how novel it would be if you could profile the Unsub the way they do in the movies. Since I couldn’t afford to hire John Douglas as a consultant I decided to learn how to do it myself. “How hard can it be really?” I thought to myself. “It’s just matching crime scene elements with statistical data right?” Ah to be young and na├»ve again. There are no step by step instructions or a list of “if this, then this” psychological markers and the section on profiling in Forensics for Dummies is sparse at best. So I read everything I could find on the subject. If John Douglas or Robert Ressler wrote it, I read it. I watched Silence of the Lambs like a hundred times and read it once. I read criminology papers and sociology papers and psychology reports and…The result? I profiled everything I came across. From the guy at the bus stop that always shouts at the new billboards to the neighbor’s cat that poops in my yard. One morning as I was contemplating the psyche of the bread I was toasting I decided to write down my thoughts about the Colorado Springs Axe Murderer. Then I watched Villisca: Living with a Mystery and saw the one and only Robert Ressler, former FBI profiler and the man given credit for introducing the term “serial killer” to the world, giving a profile of the Unsub at Villisca. Oh well…here’s my take (note: I’m not even going to touch on the psyche of the killer).

Crime Scenes: Entry was gained into the Burnham cottage through a side window by cutting open the screen. While closing the window used to enter the Burnham cottage, the Unsub knocked over a bottle of black ink or shoe polish and attempted to wipe it up which transferred the substance to his fingers and facilitated the transfer of his fingerprints to various items in the house and on the murder weapon. (Note: I’m adding the following based on new info I have received) According to witness testimony, Mrs. Burnham was in the habit of leaving windows up and doors open with only the screen door latched (end addition). A make-shift torch in the form of a twisted, burnt newspaper was found on the floor of the Burnham crime scene and a pile of ash was found in front of the stove in the kitchen. A washbowl containing bloody water was found in the kitchen as well indicating the Unsub washed up after the crime was committed. That factored with the attempt made at wiping up the ink/shoe polish means the Unsub spent a considerable amount of time on scene after the murders.

The Wayne cottage was entered through the back door after the offender cut the screen, lifted the hook and picked the lock with the wire. The wire had been bent indicating it had been used as a lock pick. No significant evidence has been noted in the Wayne cottage with exception to that of a kerosene lamp that was believed to have been handled by the Unsub. The murder weapon was found resting against the back of the Wayne cottage, possibly in the same position it was found before the murders. No attempt had been made to wipe off blood or fingerprints.

State of Victims: (Note: Due to new info, the original text of this section has been lifted entirely and replaced) The doctor who examined the bodies testified that Mrs. Burnham’s head had received more sever blows than the other victims. He counted four distinct blows to her head. The two John Burnham had been hit twice in the front of the head and Nellie Burnham had been hit once on the back of her skull. Nellie’s body was found face down across her mother’s legs in such a way as to indicate she had been crawling over her mother when she was struck. Both children were dressed in their underwear and Mrs. Burnham was dressed in a nightgown. Henry Wayne had been struck repeatedly in the face and the facial bones were smashed in. Blanch Wayne had been hit on the side of the head, near the temple “with some sharp instrument” then hit with the blunt edge of the axe. News reports stated the Wayne’s were “half nude” when found but could mean both were in their nightclothes.

General Crime Scene Characteristics: The murder weapon was acquired by the Unsub moments before the murders and was left at the crime scene. The attack was blitz style with the victims being asleep at the time. One of the crime scenes was sloppy with evidence in the form of fingerprints left all over the scene but while sloppy, neither crime scene was chaotic. The Unsub brought a burglary kit with him in the form of a knife used to cut screens and a wire used to pick locks. The knife was not found but the wire was left at the back door of one of the crime scenes. The bodies in at least one of the crime scenes had been covered and the windows in both cottages were found closed and covered by shutters and/or curtains. All entry doors into the cottages were closed but not all were locked. By closing up the cottages, the Unsub was able to delay discovery of the crime for two days. These elements all point to a mixed offender leaning more towards organized than disorganized.

Physical Characteristics: Both crime scenes were contained inside one room of small, two-room cottages with limited space available for movement. The type of weapon used was a heavy instrument with a long handle which would be difficult to wield inside of such confined spaces efficiently. For this reason I believe the Unsub was shorter than six feet tall. The average height for males in 1910 was about 5’ 8” which is around an inch smaller than the modern average, so I would say the Unsub was probably about 5’ 7” or 5’ 8”. While of average height he was probably powerfully built due to the strength necessary to dispatch two adults sleeping in the same bed before either had time to wake up. Also due to the cramped confines of the rooms, the Unsub was pretty adept at wielding an axe.  Since Jack Lalanne was 25 years away from opening his first gym the power probably came naturally or from the type of work he was in. The main lines of work which would have both required him to swing a heavy, blunt object every day and be in Colorado Springs were mining or railroad work.

According to a witness, a man with a mustache and wearing a light colored soft hat was seen near the crime scene around the time the attacks were estimated to have begun. So what I have, exactly, is a man of average height, powerful build with a mustache and wearing a style of hat that nearly every man in the country owned at the time. Jeeze, I might as well accuse Captain Kangaroo.

You can flame me if you like.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

At Last the Coroner's Inquest - Part 2


Henry F. Wayne

Much thanks to Sandra at the Pikes Peak Library in Colorado Springs.

Now don't get excited, I still haven't found the actual Coroner's findings or listing of evidence submitted. What Sandra did find for me was a brief summery of the Coroner's Inquest in the Colorado Springs Herald and I think it gives me some new things to chew on and more fuel for my WAGs and SWAGs.

El Paso County Coroner Leonard Jackson called only two witnesses outside of the
doctor who examined the bodies. Dr. E. L. McKinnie viewed the bodies at the
morgue and it isn't stated if he saw them in the context of the crime scene. He found that May Burnham was "the worst battered of any of the victims." She had been struck four times and he noted she was wearing a nightgown or a wrap. Nellie Burnham had been struck on the back of her head which was consistent with the finding she had been attacked while attempting to crawl over her mother's legs. The Burnham children were dressed in their underwear. Henry Wayne had been attacked while lying on his back and the frontal bones of the skull and facial bones were collapsed from the attack. Dr. McKinnie stated Henry had been the next "worst battered" of the victims. Blanche Wayne had been lying on her side when attacked and had been hit with the blade of the axe near her temple then was hit with the blunt end of the axe. No mention is made of the state of dress or undress of the Wayne's bodies.

Officially the Jury returned an "open verdict" which basically means they had no suspects and no idea where they were going to find some suspects. It is the last aspect of the jury's findings that intrigues me.

"[W]e further find that the killing of the above named persons was done with felonious intent."
I'm not a lawyer but I can Google. Felonious intent means the murders happened as a consequence of some other felony action. An example would be if a burglar was surprised by the homeowner and, while attempting to escape, struck the homeowner with a fire poker and killed him. The original intent of the crime was burglary, a felony, and as a consequence someone was murdered. According to Wikipedia, the current interpretation of "felonious intent" has been in effect since the 18th century so this is how the jury in Colorado Springs would have understood the finding as well.

So what might have been the “felonious intent” the jurors had considered? If you read that Wiki entry you will see what the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code lists as crimes contained in the Felonious Intent clause; robbery, rape or forcible deviant sexual intercourse, arson, burglary, kidnapping, and felonious escape. I can remove robbery/burglary from the list since it was well documented that items of value were left in plain sight throughout both crime scenes. Investigators originally thought an attempt to set fire to the Burnham cottage had been made but as I wrote earlier, the scorched curtains were explained by too much powder being used by a photographer, so arson is out. Felonious escape and kidnapping were not considered so that leaves rape and/or forcible deviant sex. This leads me back to my previous post where I proposed the bodies may have been posed or assaulted in some way after death. The jury seems to have considered something while listening to the evidence. This of course is all speculation. I can’t begin to be certain of anything unless I find an accurate description of the crime scenes somewhere but until such time, I will stand by my deductive reasoning and leave it at that.

P.S. The two other witnesses were Nettie Ruth and Anna Merritt. Pretty lean list considering all the speculation flying around the neighborhood. Why not Mrs. Evans who loaned out what turned out to be the murder weapon and supposedly heard a scream on the night of the murder? How about the mine worker who saw a man loitering in the area about midnight the same night? Wow. Even by the standards of 1911 criminology this case got botched badly.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Congratulations to the Villisca Folks!



My congratulations go out to Kelly and Tammy Rundle, the makers of the documentary Villisca: Living with a Mystery. The readers of the true crime blog In Cold Blog have bestowed upon their film the In Cold Blog Detective Award for Best Documentary Based on a True Crime.

We have to shorten that name. The Coldies; The Icbies; something for crying out loud.

And congratulations to all those who were nominated.

Buy it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rich, steamy bowls of justice to be served



Murder of the innocent is senseless but it takes a particular kind of asshole to commit a crime like this.  In December of 1959, Cliff, Christine, Debbie and Jimmy Walker were shot to death in their family home by a still unknown intruder. Christine had been sexually assaulted and Debbie, who was 23 months old, had been shot and later drowned in the bathtub. It happened in Osprey, Florida and shook up the quiet little farming community. DNA found at the scene has finally been processed and a profile developed that may finally solve the case. Laura James at CLEWS has the scoop.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has an excellent walkthrough of the crime as well.

Pardon me while I get up on this soapbox but reading through the links provided by Ms. James I was taken aback. Friends and family of the Walkers are alive this very day and can remember their warm smiles. Their memories are of people who will forever be young and never had the chance to grow old with friends and neighbors. For those who are alive the solving of this case may mean closure or vindication. This isn't the case with the crimes I, and a handful of others, are persuing.

The people most closely associated with the crimes of the Midwest Axeman are long dead. If the crimes in Colorado Springs, Monmouth, Ellsworth, Paola and Villisca are ever solved, it won't really benefit anybody. So why do we do it? With a case that is almost 100 years old it is easy to forget that the victims were innocent people too. It isn't hard to draw a parallel between young Debbie Walker being drowned in the bathtub and little Nellie Burnham being struck down as she desperately scrambled over her mother's legs. We can often disassociate ourselves from adults we do not know but, at least in my case, we have a hard time doing the same when it comes to children and more children than adults fell victim to the Midwest Axeman. The children of Ross Moore never had the chance to grow up with their cousins, Herman and Katharine. Blanche Stillinger had to live the rest of her life knowing she was the one who let her two little sisters stay with the Moores on the night of June 9, 1912, a fact which effected her raising of her own daughter.

While the principal players may all be gone the lack of justice still lingers for the victims. Most who study historic crimes know the names of the victims in Villisca but very few know the Dawson family. The Hudsons are rarely mentioned in the same sentence as the Moores and they died only four days earlier. Has anyone bothered to locate the graves of Henry, Blanche and little Lulumay Wayne? Don't get me wrong, I would like to solve these crimes because seriously, how cool would that be, but sometimes I do have to step back and remind myself the victims aren't just names on a gravestone but real people with real families and friends who mourned for them almost 100 years ago.

P.S. My apologies to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for uploading the thumbnail but the linked picture was just too big.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Curious Case of the Parrot



In 1942, a writer from Colorado Springs named Harry Galbraith published an article in International Police Officer magazine (which I have never heard of) about "Four sensational crimes" of Colorado Springs. On June 28, 1942, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph reprinted the article. Among the crimes he discussed was the Burnham - Wayne axe murders of 1911. He relates one curious account that was never mentioned specifically in the Newspapers at the time. The story of the Burnhams' parrot.

That May Burnham's father, J. A. Hill, worked for the Mexican Central railroad at the time of his daughter's murder was reported in the press. However the fact that he had, some time before the murders, sent his daughter and grandchildren a parrot was not widely known. Both Nettie Ruth and Anna Merritt testified at the Coroner's Inquest that the parrot stirred when they opened the back door into the house although Mrs. Ruth said it merely flapped its wings a bit, Mrs. Merritt said it actually flew out of its cage. Neither mentioned the bird having "said" anything as they entered the kitchen. Mr. Galbraith tells the story differently by either utilizing artistic panache or just plain getting the story wrong. By his account, the parrot cage was in the front room and after the two women had opened the door between the two rooms...
"the two women pushed in to stand in paralyzed horror for several moments as their shocked brain cells tried to grasp the meaning of the sight that greeted them.  When 
the door opened the parrot began talking, repeating over and over, 'End of the line --Damn your soul!'"
Now that's some chilling narrative! Mr. Galbraith didn't want the reader to think the bird was parroting the words of the murderer and went on to explain that the phrase was the only thing the parrot knew how to say. Apparently it was some kind of "bridge gang" vocabulary(?).

The "end of the line" comment does actually appear in the newspapers on the 21st of September. It was reportedly muttered over and over by Arthur Burnham as he went through his house and surveyed the crime scene, saying "its the end of the line" as he was led through the cottage by police. Was Burnham simply agreeing with the parrot as he tried to comprehend the end of his own genetic line?

I find this story interesting for a couple of reasons. First the context of it is just too good. Can you imagine that scene in a movie about the crimes? Second, the little bladelets of truth in the story. How coincidental is it that Galbraith reports the parrot saying nearly the same thing Arthur Burnham was reported to say. I have to leave open the possibility that Galbraith may have seen the Coroner's Inquest at some point since the document would have only been thirty years old. Most of the primary players in the case, including possibly the killer himself, may have still been living when the article appeared in the Springs Gazette Telegraph. The possibility also exists Galbraith was writing from his own memory and some of the details were blurred. But the question is whose account is correct? The general rule here is the closer to the event, the better the recollection. If the parrot had been in the front room and was prone to blurting out his cryptic message then the chance was great that the parrot would have woke the family before the UNSUB had a chance to carry out his mission. If the parrot was in the back room it still would have likely woke the family. Not sure where I was going with this post but I still think this is an interesting little touch to an interesting crime.

Congrats to the New York Football Giants!

Call me a hater if you want but I really can't describe to you how happy I am the Patriots' perfect season was destroyed with their sole loss coming in the Super Bowl.  Suck it Patriots!