Monday, July 22, 2019

There's A Reason We Don't Admire Evil


I received a letter telling me that while the Old West had gunfights, it didn't have evil as we see in the news these days. Specifically, my reader asked if mass murderers, serial killers, and such were present in the Old West. She didn't think those criminal types were around back then, especially since folks only hear about gunslingers. 

Well, the notion that mass murderers are something unique to our modern world is not accurate. In fact, there were such evil in the Old West. And frankly, they killed a lot more people than gunfighters did. Take for example the three people that I've picked to prove that such people existed in the Old West. Each was as evil as they come.

Stephen D. Richards 

Richards was a murderer known as "The Nebraska Fiend." He's known to have killed at least nine men, women, and children in Kansas and Nebraska in 1878. It's said his motive was robbery, but some question if that's true since he also killed children. His method of murdering his victims was always the same in that he beat his victims with an axe or a flatiron, or stabbed them with a Bowie knife.

The newspapers at the time filled their papers with stories about his crimes. Most were true, but some like the Chicago newspapers were not. 

The Omaha Herald was one newspaper that got it right most of the time. Their headlines included "Richards, the Kearney County Murderer, Gives for the First Time Full Details of His Crimes And a statement of the Motives Which Prompted Him in His Bloody Deeds." 

Another headline was how Richards, "Selects the Omaha Herald as the Vehicle Through Which the Confession Shall Appear."

They are also wrote, "A Fiend Who Plans, Days in Advance, the Murder of a Helpless Woman and Her Babes Because It Would Make Matters More Pleasant for Himself and the Companion of His Lot."

And of course there's their story, "He Cooks a Hot Breakfast and Eats a Hearty Meal as Soon as the Bodies Are Out of the Way."

In June of 1878, Richards was jailed in Kearney. While in the jail, he met the wife of Jasper Harlson who he knew. Because Jasper Harlson and another prisoner named Underwood escaped from that jail a few days before Richards's confinement, the Sheriff arrested Mrs. Harlson believing that she helped her husband escape. Richards convinced Mrs. Harlson to sell him her property for $600. 

After Richards' release from jail, he left town for about 6 months. He returned to Kearney and the Harlson homestead on October 18, 1878. After Mrs. Harlson transferred her property to Richards, he decided to kill her and her three children which were Daisy, age 10, Mabel, 4, and Jasper who was only 2. 

Richards was a real talker and actually gave a number of confessions and reasons why he murdered Mrs Harlson and her children. None of the reasons made any sense to anyone. Richards who thought he would outsmart the authorities fled after the murders, but was later caught after killing an old man by the name of Anderson.

After his trail and conviction to hang, Richards embraced the press and actually became a sort of celebrity. On the train to Kearney, it's said that everyone wanted a glimpse of him when he was being escorted him to the Kearney jail by Kearney and Buffalo County Sheriffs. Richards was friendly to reporters and everyone else on that train.  

As with many criminals today, Richards talked at length. He gave them all sorts of questionable details about his early life and details about his murders. Most details were lies. And of course, he blamed others for his murderous ways.  

While talking with reporters on the train, a traveler aboard the train asked if he could ask Richards a question. The man is described as being "tall, well dressed, with iron gray hair and whiskers." It's said that the man had stood in the aisle at the reporter's side, listening to what Richards was saying. The man was Col. John S. Mosby, who was once a leader of Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. 

Mosby asked the reporter, "Will you allow me to ask him a word or two?"
The reporter said, "Certainly."
Mosby then asked Richards, "Did you have no remorse after killing that woman and those little children?"

Richards replied, "No, sir. They were nothing more to me than so many jack rabbits."

It's said Col. Mosby simply shook his head in disdain. On that particular day, Col. Mosby is believed to have been headed for Washington D.C. where he was nominated by Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes to be United States consul to Hong Kong. It was a position that Mosby was confirmed to assume, and he held from 1878 to 1885.

After they arrived at the station, the Sheriffs escorted him to jail. At one point, Kearney County Sheriff Martin asked the very talkative Richards to give him the details of his killing Mrs. Harleson and her children. It's said his reply was cold and lacked any remorse. 

He said, "I went into the house. Found them all sleeping soundly. Got the axe and went at the job. I killed them all as they were sleeping. Mrs. Harelson and the two oldest girls were in the bed together and the baby in the crib. I killed Mrs. Harelson first, then the second child, then the oldest one, and the baby last. There wasn't one woke and there was not a sound made. I only got blood on one blanket and on the pillow shams. This bedding I took out with the bodies and threw into the hole. I carried Mrs. Harelson's body out first, then the two girls at one trip and took the baby last. If the baby's leg was broken by me it when I threw it into the hole. I picked it up, carried it out and threw it in as I would a log. I hauled in the dirt without being particular to put the yellow under dirt at the bottom, where it had come from. I presume that led to the discovery of the bodies when the neighbors were searching. I examined the house carefully, found I had left no spots of blood anywhere and that the ax was clean. If any hair was found on a flat iron it was not human hair. I then straightened things up and cooked and ate my breakfast."

On December 28, 1878, The Omaha Herald, ran the following story:

The Life Taker
Richards Still Smiling and Talking as if Killing People was No Worse than Killing Mice

Kearney, Neb., December 28.--Stephen D. Richards, the murderer of nine persons, was safely jailed here at 9:45 p.m.

Sheriff Anderson and Martin received a dispatch east of Columbus, stating all quiet in Kearney. A later dispatch sent from a trusted Ireland, received east of Grand Island, stated a crowd was gathering.

Sheriff Anderson instructed his friend here to be in readiness for later advices, and afterward ordered a boy to meet him with a wagon two miles east of Kearney Junction.

The Deputy Sheriff, Lew Johnson, met the party at Buds station four miles east of here, and reported a crowd of upwards of two hundred assembled, with what object not known.

Conductor Kelley stopped the train at a point two miles east and Richards was taken off, still securely shackled and handcuffed and placed in a wagon waiting there. Sheriff Martin and Deputy Johnson accompanying.

Sheriff Anderson proceeded to Kearney and responded to rash and eager questions of the assembled crowd by stating that Martin stopped off with Richards at Grand Island, and would be along tomorrow. Much disappointment was shown by the crowd.

While Anderson was parlaying with the crowd and holding them, Martin landed Richards safely in jail. Various parties discussing the matter about town express chagrin at missing sight of Richards, but commending the action of the sheriffs. Richards manifested supreme indifference to his lot, was perfectly willing to be brought direct to Kearney Junction, and said he had as soon died one way as another.

Col. Mosby, of Confederate guerilla fame, was on the train and interviewed Richards at some length on his indifference.

Richards said for two years he had held his life of no account, and placed others at about the same importance as hogs. He talked almost continuously from Omaha to Central City, answering questions, was affable and courteous to all, and had a smile on his features constantly.

He talks of murders as openly and with as little concealment as of the most trifling matter. He insists that none of the last five were committed in passion, but with a motive which he will not reveal, and were planned deliberately. He promises revelations in a day or two on matters here which he has kept silent about, which he says will astonish the whole western country as nothing has for years.

The sheriffs believe him perfectly sane, and in possession of facts of vast importance. He slept soundly from Silver Creek until awakened to leave the train. All quiet here, and the crowd has dispersed."

-- end of The Omaha Herald article. 

Stephen Richards was the worst killer to have ever plagued Nebraska. He was in fact a serial killer who openly admitted to the murders of his traveling companion, the Harelson family, and others. I read where some are reporting that he was hanged in Minden, Nebraska, on January 15, 1879. But, other sources report that he was hanged there on April 26, 1879. 

As with the date of his hanging, there is some controversy over his burial. Some sources say that he was buried in an unmarked grave which was later dug up. That tale says his bones were scattered in the streets of Kearney. Another story says that he was hanged and afterwards tossed in a dry well. And then there's the story about how the Kearney County Gazette obtained Richards' skull and had placed it on display a few years after his hanging. 

So really, it sounds though no one knows if he ended up scattered in the streets somewhere, if his skull ended up on a shelf, or if he was simply tossed in a dry well. Fact is, we can all agree that whatever happened to Stephen D. Richards, he certainly deserved what he got in the end.  

James C. Dunham

Another axe murderer is part of the horrible event that took place on the night of May 26, 1896, in the city of Campbell, California. That was the night that James C. Dunham became a mas murderer. That was the night he claimed the lives of six innocent people. Among them were his wife Hattie, age 25, her mother Ada Wells McGlincy, age 53, her stepfather Colonel Richard Parran McGlincy, who was 56, her brother James K. Wells, 22, and their hired help, Robert Briscoe, 50, and Minnie Shesler who was only 28.

How did he do such a thing? He shot them using a .38 and a .45 caliber pistol. When he was unable to accomplish his horrendous deed using guns, he resorted to using an axe to finish off his victim. He used an axe to hack them to death. And frankly, since using an axe as a weapon is nothing new in the annals of crime, I doubt he got the idea to hack everyone to death by reading about Lizzie Borden who was accused and acquitted of the August 4, 1892, axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts.

As for Dunham, still to this day, no one knows his motives. No one knows what made him do it, what triggered such rage, why on earth would he decide to do such an act. As for anyone being found alive after the massacre. That was not the case in the house. That is, other than James' and Hattie's 3-week-old son. A farmhand heard what was going on inside the house and hid in the barn. When the noise quieted down in the house, he discovered what took place and ran for help.

After the killings, James C. Dunham simply disappeared. It's true. Even though there was a huge manhunt out searching for the killer, a manhunt that spread throughout Santa Clara County, he was not found. In fact, James C. Dunham was never apprehended and tried. That's right, he was never apprehended and tried.

Think about this, with the population as low as it was at the time, you'd think he would have been found almost immediately. But that wasn't the case, even though his name and picture were circulated and everyone knew who he was and what he did it. He escaped and was never found.

On  May 28th, 1996, to observe the 100th anniversary of the massacre, the San Jose Mercury News ran the following:

INCREDULOUS residents of the peaceful Santa Clara Valley woke to the horror of their first mass murder 100 years ago, May 26, 1896.

The ax and gun slaughter of six came more than 90 years before the next mass murder here: the 1988 killings of seven men and women at ESL in Sunnyvale. In that one, the accused, Richard Wade Farley, was convicted.

In the 1896 massacre, the suspect got away.

Although James C. Dunham was never apprehended and tried, local residents convicted him of first-degree murder in the court of public opinion. And the coroner's jury investigating the deaths declared just two days after the killings that they were committed by ''one James C. Dunham, with malice aforethought.''

Dunham killed his wife, Hattie, 25, her mother, Ada McGlincy, 53, her stepfather, Richard P. McGlincy, 56, her brother, James K. Wells, 22, and two of the hired help, Robert Briscoe, 50, and Minnie Shesler, 28. The slayings occurred at the McGlincy home in what is now Campbell. There were witnesses to at least part of the carnage.

Dunham spared his infant son, then just 3 weeks old. The baby was adopted by relatives in San Francisco and given the name Percy Osborne Brewer. Dunham never tried to contact his son. The child did inherit his grandmother's estate.

There was intense speculation over why Dunham wielded the ax and the guns, a .38-caliber revolver and a .45-caliber pistol. One man, George Whipple, who was a neighbor of the McGlincys, was interviewed in 1947 at the age of 87. He had a theory about why it happened based on his knowledge of the household and the accumulation of neighborhood gossip that never reached the authorities.

The killings, according to Whipple, were due to mother-in-law trouble. Ada McGlincy, aided by her son and her husband, was bent on breaking up the couple. ''The way they treated Dunham was something terrible,'' Whipple said in the interview.

Keeping notes

It was known that Ada McGlincy was keeping notes, apparently as evidence for a divorce suit. Whipple, who saw them, said the complaints against Dunham were ''trifling.''

Another note was found after the killings. It was signed Hattie and read, ''Please say goodbye for me to my dear mother, brother and stepfather.''

She might have been going off with Dunham. Possibly, Dunham killed her accidentally, perhaps seizing her during a quarrel. That is part of Whipple's theory.

After that, the young man, a student at Santa Clara University, apparently went berserk and killed the others. The idea that Dunham was crazed when he was killing was popular. Even his brother, who had once been engaged to marry Hattie, thought him insane.

Posse found horse

When he'd killed the six, Dunham took his brother-in-law's horse and rode off. He was next seen asking for food at Smiths Creek Hotel on Mount Hamilton. A huge posse was mounted and it found the horse Dunham used, but no Dunham.

Many believed he'd either committed suicide or starved to death on the mountain. Others thought he might have taken off on his bike. He was considered an excellent cyclist and had recently bought a used bike and outfitted it with wide tires and other equipment to make it suitable for traveling in the mountains.

Over the years, there were many reported sightings of Dunham or possibly his bones. He could have been the ''wild man'' roaming the hills near Dulzura, a tiny town near the Mexican border, southeast of San Diego. He might have been part of a Yankee guerrilla gang in Mexico; at least such a gang reportedly had a member named James Dunham who had murdered his family.

Bones checked

There were many investigations of bones, mostly on Mount Hamilton. Authorities had a detailed description of Dunham and his teeth, figuring they could identify the man if the right skeleton ever turned up. The last reported possibility were some bones discovered on Mount Hamilton in 1953. Investigators thought they looked more like cattle bones than human ones.

While Dunham never was found, the McGlincy house survived well into this century at the end of a long driveway that is now McGlincey Lane. Kids who went there reported it was haunted.

-- end of the San Jose Mercury News. 

For me, I hate unsubstantiated talk such as saying that James Dunham had it in for his mother-in-law and that's what drove him to do such a thing. To me, that's just conjecture. The man who said that was just giving his opinion that was nothing less than gossip. It's just his opinion based on zero facts.

To my knowledge reading about this, there was no evidence or witnesses to support such a claim. But as with most conjecture, people will believe it. And frankly, unfounded statements such as saying that James Dunham was treated badly by his in-laws seems to be an effort to excuse his evil deed.

I don't care how badly one is treated at him, nothing justifies such an act. Besides, if Whipple's theory is right in that Dunham was being treated badly, all that means is that Dunham could have stopped it by packing a bag and leaving. If anyone doesn't like the way that are treated, even today, if that's the case, people don't have to become violent. All that person has to do, man or woman, is simply leave.

Dora Wright

As for people making excuses for their horrible behavior, people trying to avoid punishment for what they do, people have been doing that in some way, shape, or form, since the beginning of time. It's not something new to our society. Dora Wright tried to say she should have been spared being hanged on the grounds that she was a woman. Not that she was sorry or repentant, but merely because she was a woman. President Theodore Roosevelt didn't buy it!

As for an evil act being in the news, below is the story of Dora Wright. Some would think her story is right out of today's news media. At the time, it was shocking that anyone was capable of doing such a thing. The Oklahoma newspapers described Dora Wright as a "Demon" and duped her a "Fiend". One paper called the crime she committed "the most horrible and outrageous ever committed."

Who was Dora Wright? She was a murderer of Native Indian origin who tortured her victim to death. Newspapers said seven-year-old Annie Williams lived a very short agonizing life. For months, young Annie was cruelly beaten by her guardian, Dora Wright, age 38. While some papers said she was Wright's niece, from everything that I can find, the small half-starved seven-year-old girl was an orphan that was placed in Wright's charge. Wright was paid to take care of her.

Besides whippings, beatings, and starvation, other tortures were revealed at Wright's trial. One such torture was Annie having had to endure being branded with a red-hot poker. Her horrible ordeal finally ended on February 2nd, 1903, when Annie was whipped so severely that she died.

On May 30th, 1903, an Oklahoma jury took a mere 20 minutes to find Dora Wright guilty of the child's murder. The jury declined to recommend life imprisonment so that Wright would be eligible for the death sentence.

The newspapers all agreed:
No One Deserved Hanging More Than Dora Wright!

Since Oklahoma was not yet a state, Oklahoma Indian Territory jurisdiction fell under the federal government. As for the case of seeking executive clemency for Dora Wright, that task actually fell to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Below is U.S. Attorney General Philander Knox's brief on the case to President Roosevelt. This statement was released to the press:

"The real facts in this case are that this woman tortured to death a little child seven years old, her niece, whom she was pretending to care for and support. She whipped the child most unmercifully with large switches, struck it about the hand and face so as to cause wounds sufficient to produce death, burned holes in its legs and thighs with a heated poker, and committed other nameless atrocities upon the person of the child. The testimony shows that the woman pursued a course of cruelty which was fiendish and barbarous … The only ground upon which her pardon is sought is that she is a woman, and that the infliction of the death penalty upon a woman would be a shock to the moral sense of the people in the community."

President Theodore Roosevelt's response to the plea based on the grounds that Dora Wright was a woman was short and to the point. He wrote, "If that woman was mean enough to do a thing like that, she ought to have the nerve to meet her punishment."

On July 17th, 1903, Dora Wright was hanged in a public executed at McAlester, Oklahoma, for the murder and mutilation of seven-year old Annie Williams. Yes, she was tried, convicted, and executed in a little over six months after committing the murder. It's called swift justice, and that's a part of the old days that should make a comeback.

Below is what The Blackwell Sun newspapers reported:
First Woman ever Hanged in the Territories

Blackwell, Oklahoma, July 23, 1903
South McAlester, I. T., July 18

Dora Wright was hanged here yesterday for the murder of Annie Williams, a 7 year-old girl. She mounted the scaffold without a tremor.

Dora Wright, the first woman ever hung in this section, was convicted of whipping a 7 year-old white girl, Annie Williams until she died of her injuries. The evidence showed that the little girl had been beaten severely for many months, as there were old scars on her. Some of these indicated that the child had been tortured with a red-hot poker.

Charles Barrett was hanged at the same time for the murder of John Hennessy, an aged man whom he shot from ambush. Robbery was the motive.

--end of The Blackwell Sun article.

As for the scene of the hanging, it was reported that there was a carnival atmosphere all around. In fact, many on hand are said to have applauded when the lever was pulled and the two were hanged.

Of course, that shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, most people celebrate when they see evil stopped in its tracks. I believe there is nothing more gratifying for good people than knowing that they are winning the battle against evil. It is a constant battle, but knowing that goodness prevails and evil hasn't won is not a bad feeling.

Richards, Dunham, and Wright, prove that evil existed in the Old West -- no differently than it does today in our modern day world. Thankfully, there's a reason that we don't admire evil. It's because evil should be loathed.

Tom Correa