murder

A couple of days ago, my husband, Bob Schulenberg and I went for a hike through a South Dakota ghost town called Spokane. It was founded in 1890 to extract precious gold, the mine proved richer in silver, copper, zinc, mica and graphite. The town hit its stride in 1927 with its biggest year ever totaling $144,742 in profits which helped fund the school building whose bones can still be seen, at least for now. The tow is rapidly deteriorating, so they won’t be around much longer. By 1940, the mine and town were all but abandoned. The town limped along, with the manager’s house being the last one to be abandoned in the 1970s. The Spokane Mine was discovered in 1889 by Sylvester Judd more or less by accident. As the story goes, “he had placed a rock (likely galena or cerussite) from the outcrop on his wooden stove. He was amazed when he found molten lead coming from the mineral.” The town was formed the same year the mine began operations, in 1890, but it was not the town or it’s dilapidated buildings, but rather the tragic history of the place that caught my attention.

A man named James Shepard, or Jim as he was know to family and friends in Spokane, heard about the gold rush in the Black Hills and decided to take his family from North Carolina, to the town of Spokane to stake his claim. A local man named Frank Cox had not kept up assessment work on the Spokane Mine, which he himself had “jumped” when it had been neglected by someone else. It isn’t the best way to stake a claim, but it is legal apparently. Jim had enough to stake his claim to the mine, so he claimed it and on June 21, 1908, when he drove his stake at the site. Jim was well liked and since he did things right, people respected him and his family.

Frank Cox’s wife, the Sunday school teacher, observed the staking of the claim by Shepard while riding to the schoolhouse and informed her husband. Then the real trouble began. That evening, Jim rode his horse to bring his free-roaming milk cow back to the house. According to his account, when he had his guard down, Frank and his son Henry stepped out from behind some trees. Frank yelled, “You son-of-a-bitch, you have driven your last stake!” and shot Jim with a shotgun. He was able to ride home, where his wife, Jessie, frantically helped him into bed and rode for help.

Jessie went to the Hoffman home and told them that Jim had been shot. Edgar H. Hoffman, who was 12 years old, never forgot that night. “Mrs. Shepard was a tall, dark mountain woman. Her clothes and the saddle were soaked and spotted with blood,” he said. A neighbor rode to the nearest doctor, but that was 17 miles away in Custer. It was an awful stormy night with heavy rain and lightning flashes. Not an easy way to make such an important trip. The next morning, the doctor and sheriff arrived to just in time to hear hear Jim’s dying words…words that incriminated Frank and Henry. The town was horribly shaken by the murder. The crowd could only be described as “angry and hostile” at Jim’s funeral.

“In order to prevent violence, the minister had the congregation point the finger of guilt at whoever they felt had committed the murder. Everyone pointed the finger at the Cox house. From then on, the Coxes were ostracized by the Spokane community and they sent their son away to relatives,” wrote Inez Shepard Shafer, Jim Shepard’s only surviving child.

In the July 10, 1909 edition of the Keystone Record, it was stated that the trial was “one of the longest and hardest fought preliminary hearings ever held in Custer County. It was thought at first by friends of Cox that he would have no trouble in proving an alibi, as he was at the Ideal [mine] all day Sunday and slept there that night. This is true, but there was about an hour and a half in the evening he was unable to account for, and about the time the shooting was supposed to have taken place. It is unfortunate for all concerned, and if Cox proves his innocence, and many believe he will, the chances are we will never know who killed James Shepard.”

Prisoners have tried to escape ever since there have been prisons. It is the nature of the situation. No one likes to be locked up. Most escape attempts are not successful, and few are what we would consider well planned, but in the case of Florida prison inmates, Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, some kind of good planning must have gone into the escape plan. The two men were serving life sentences, without the possibility of parole, for murder, and so I guess they had nothing to lose by getting caught in an escape attempt. Jenkins was incarcerated for a 1998 murder and armed robbery and a 1997 auto theft. He has been in prison since 2000. Walker was imprisoned for a 1999 murder and has been in custody since 2001.

The men were serving their time in a Panhandle prison called Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle, Florida. accidentally released two inmates from a Panhandle prison who are convicted murderers, according to published reports. Somehow, Walker and Jenkins, both 34, were able to obtain fraudulent orders of sentence modification. Based on those modifications, Jenkins was released on September 27, 2013, and Walker was released on October 8, 2013. Both were former residents of Orlando. Their release was apparently “in accordance with Department of Corrections policy and procedure. However, both of their releases were based on fraudulent modifications that had been made to court orders,” Department of Corrections secretary Michael Crews said.

The judge whose name is on the forged documents is Belvin Perry, Orange County chief judge, who presided over the Casey Anthony case. Perry’s office said that the judge’s signature was forged in the paperwork calling for reduced sentences for the convicted killers. Apparently, however, while the false documents had problems the one thing that was correct was the judges signature. The judge denies any wrongdoing, saying “It is quite evident that someone forged a court document, filed a motion, and that someone with the aid of a computer, lifted my signature off previous signed documents, which are public reports, affixed that to the document, sent it to the clerk’s office. It was processed and forwarded to doc and the defendant ended up being released,” Perry maintains. He also says, “I have never seen anything like this. You have to give them an A for being imaginative and effective.” The reality is that this was not the first time a prisoner managed to obtain false documents, and probably wont be the last, since no one was caught in this act. The prison waited 17 days before notifying the authorities of the escape. Cybercrime is the newest thing. Easy to perform, hard to catch.

I think that many of us have thought about a hidden treasure…probably as kids, but maybe as adults too. In fact, with the number of metal detectors sold every year, maybe there are just as many adults looking for hidden treasure as kids.

Dr John Marsh was born June 5, 1799 in South Danvers, Massachusetts. In college at Harvard, he had intended to study ministry, but changed his mind and received his bachelors degree in medicine. He then studied medicine with a Boston doctor. He then decided to move to California, and became an early pioneer and settle in Alta, California. He was also the first Harvard graduate, the first to practice medicine there. He knew Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and was the first to compile a dictionary of the Sioux language. He became one of the wealthiest ranchers in California, and was one of the most influential men in the establishment of California statehood.

The Reverend William W Smith introduced Marsh to Abigail “Abby” Smith Tuck, a schoolteacher from New England, who also served as principal at a girls school in San Jose. After a brief two-week courtship, they were married on June 24, 1851. Soon after the wedding, the couple moved into the old adobe. On 12 March 1852, she gave birth to a daughter they named Alice Frances. Shortly thereafter, Marsh set out to build his family a home. Abby had picked the spot for their home. The home that was nestled in the foothills of Mount Diablo. The home was located next to a creek that was later named Marsh Creek after the doctor. While the home was stunning, the cost of building it did not exceed $20,000.

Marsh was not only a doctor, but also a rancher, and was very successful, even though he was usually paid for medical services in the currency of the day…cowhides and tallow. Marsh might have been a bit of an eccentric, or maybe he just didn’t trust banks. Whatever the case may be, he was known to bury his money in the foothills near his home. Abby died in 1855, and maybe that was what set Marsh to burying the money. I don’t think anyone knows. It is thought that Marsh buried about $40,000 in gold coins in the area, but the money has never been found. On September 24, 1856, while coming home from Martinez, Marsh was murdered. It happened on the road between Pacheco and Martinez. Riding by, he was ambushed and murdered by three of his vaquero employees over a dispute about their wages. Two of the killers were found ten years later and brought to trial. One man turned state’s evidence and was released without trial. The other was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, though he was pardoned 25 years later. The third man was never caught. A California Historical Landmark #722 plaque still marks the site of the murder. John and Abigail Marsh are buried in Mountain View Cemetery, in Oakland, California.

Unfortunately, there are among us, people who are corrupt and ruthless, and sometimes, things happen because of corruption, anger, or even stupidity. William Tilghman was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa on July 4, 1854, at the height of the “Wild West” era. He was a man who wanted something more, so at 16 years old, he moved west. As sometimes happened, men who went west, toyed with the wild life that was brought about by the lawless area. Tilghman was no different. He fell in with a bad crowd of young men who stole horses from the Indians. After several narrow escapes with angry Indians, Tilghman decided that rustling was too dangerous and settled in Dodge City, Kansas, where he briefly served as a deputy marshal before opening a saloon. He was arrested twice for alleged train robbery and rustling, but the charges did not stick. It was a shaky start, but Tilghman gradually built a reputation as an honest and respectable young man in Dodge City. Before long, he became the deputy sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. Later, he was offered and accepted the job of the marshal of Dodge City…a real life Matt Dillon, from Gunsmoke.

Tilghman was one of the first men into the territory when Oklahoma opened to settlement in 1889, and he became a deputy US marshal for the region in 1891. In the late 19th century, lawlessness was still very much a part of Oklahoma. Tilghman helped to bring order the to area by ridding Oklahoma by capturing some of the most notorious bandits of the day. While locking up many criminals, Tilghman, nevertheless, managed to earn a well-deserved reputation for treating even the worst criminals fairly and protecting the rights of the unjustly accused. Any man, who found himself in Tilghman’s custody, knew he was safe from angry vigilante mobs, because Tilghman had little tolerance for those who took the law into their own hands. In 1898, a wild mob lynched two young Indians who were falsely accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Tilghman arrested and secured prison terms for eight of the mob leaders and captured the real rapist-murderer.

In 1924, after serving a term as an Oklahoma state legislator, making a movie about his frontier days, and serving as the police chief of Oklahoma City, Tilghman might well have been expected to quietly retire. However, it was the height of the Prohibition era, and the old lawman was unable to hang up his gun. He still felt a calling to keep law and order in his town. He accepted a job as city marshal in Cromwell, Oklahoma. On November 1, 1924, William Tilghman, who was known to both friends and enemies alike as “Uncle Billy” was murdered by a corrupt prohibition agent who resented Tilghman’s refusal to ignore local bootlegging operations. The Prohibition officer was drunk, and in his anger, made the worst mistake of his life.

Everyone knows the horrors of the Nazi regime, but few people can say that while they thought it was all a part of war, until one day they were forced to see it for what it really was…horrible. These soldiers honestly thought that the concentration camps were no different than the prisoner of war camps they were in, but when they saw the truth, it made them sick. They were forced to face the awful truth that their leader was a complete monster…and worse yet, that they could do nothing to stop his tirade. This forced confrontation brought Germans face-to-face with the worst works of the Third Reich. I can’t imagine the horror of finding out that human beings were being murdered in the gas chambers. The absolute horror of it shows on the faces of the prisoners of war in the United States camps, as they compared the treatment they received at our hands, to what the Nazis were doing to the Jewish people.

An important part of keeping moral up in any war is making sure that the people believe that what their nation is doing, is the right thing. To find out that their nation…their leader, Hitler…was involved in the unwarranted killing of human beings, just because these people were a race they did not like, had to have been such a shock…a sickening shock. This forced process was part of the Allied policy known as denazification, which was designed to to purge Germany of the remnants of Nazi rule and rebuild its civil society, infrastructure, and economy. The program included actual visits to nearby concentration camps. Posters displaying dead bodies of prisoners hung in public places, and forced German prisoners of war to view films documenting the Nazis’ treatment of “inferior” people. The German people had to be changed. They had to realize that Hitler’s evil agenda could not continue. The only way to do that was to change the hearts of men. The best way to change the hearts of men is to show them the horrible truth that they have been lied too and taken advantage of.

While such a harsh method designed to facilitate change was necessary, I must think that it was as hard on the Americans as it was on the Germans. I don’t think anyone could easily watch such horrible murders, without feeling something…except maybe Hitler and his serious henchmen. I still believe that the majority of human beings cannot easily stomach blatant hatred, and horrific murder. I can’t say exactly how big an impact the denazification efforts had at that time in history, but I believe that it was huge. The reason is that the German soldiers weren’t necessarily Nazis, and the Holocaust was just one side of the World War II. They were also fighting for territory and power. Strong nationalistic feelings were quite normal back then. Oddly, no conflict existed between not following the Nazis and fighting for the “good of your Fatherland.” Some soldiers were Nazis, some just wanted revenge for Versailles, others wanted to sit at the same table as France and Britain. And many followed because they had no other choice. It was a very strange situation, and one that had to be changed. It may not have been a humane way to bring change, but it was all they could do, so denazification was what they did…and at that time, it worked.

Most plane crashes are caused by pilot error or mechanical failure, but sometimes, someone commits an act of terrorism, or as in the case of United Airlines Flight 629 someone commits an act of hatred aimed at one person. These acts are never rational, and this one certainly wasn’t, because Jack Gilbert Graham was not a rational man. I think many, if not most of us have thought at one point or another that our parents were somehow meaner to us than any other parent in the universe, but Jack Graham took that obsession to the next level. He decided that his mother was responsible for giving him a horrible childhood, and so he decided to take his revenge on her by placing a bomb in the luggage she was checking.

His mother, Daisie Eldora King, who was a 53 year old Denver businesswoman was en route to Alaska to visit her daughter. Her flight United Airlines Flight 629, registration N37559, was a Douglas DC-6B aircraft also known as “Mainliner Denver.” The flight had originated at New York City’s La Guardia Airport and made a scheduled stop in Chicago before continuing to Denver’s Stapleton Airfield and landed at 6:11pm, 11 minutes late. At Denver the aircraft was refueled with 3,400 US gallons of fuel, and had a crew replacement. Captain Lee Hall, who was a World War II veteran, assumed command of the flight for the segments to Portland and Seattle. The flight took off at 6:52pm and at 6:56pm made its last transmission stating it was passing the Denver omni. Seven minutes later, the Stapleton air traffic controllers saw two bright lights suddenly appear in the sky north-northwest of the airport. Both lights were observed for 30 to 45 seconds, and both fell to the ground at roughly the same speed. The controllers then saw a very bright flash originating at or near the ground, intense enough to illuminate the base of the clouds 10,000 feet above the source of the flash. Upon observing the mysterious lights, the controllers quickly determined there were no aircraft in distress and contacted all aircraft flying in the area; all flights were quickly accounted for except for United Flight 629. The date was November 1, 1955.

The plane was blown up over Longmont, Colorado at about 7:03pm local time, while en route from Denver, Colorado, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. All 39 passengers and five crew members on board were killed in the explosion and crash. There was early speculation that something other than a mechanical problem or pilot error was responsible, given the magnitude of the in-air explosion. Investigators determined that Jack Gilbert Graham was responsible for bombing the airplane to kill his mother as revenge for his childhood and to obtain a large life insurance payout. Within 15 months of the explosion, Graham, who already had an extensive criminal record, was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime.

It was a horrible thing. One sick man committed murder in the skies, by killing his mother with a bomb, and in the process killed 41 other people too. I don’t know if he though the could really get away with it, but investigations are pretty sophisticated…even back then. It amazes me that they can take all those plane parts and examine them…somehow finding the source of the explosion, and tracing it back to the source. Then, by finding out who the luggage belonged to, they figured the whole thing out. Criminals really aren’t so smart, even though they think they have it all figured out. It is just sad that 42 people lost their lives, because some spoiled brat of a child thought his mom was too harsh when he was a kid…with no evidence to prove his point at all.

Over the centuries, people have gone to great lengths to humiliate their enemies. The worst thing for the Jewish people was that over the centuries, there have been so many enemies. To this day, it doesn’t matter that Israel is one of the smallest nations in the world, the Muslim nations don’t even want them to have that small area, and the Muslims weren’t the only enemy of the Jewish people either. The Jews of Europe were legally forced to wear badges or distinguishing garments, like pointed hats, to let everyone know who they were. This practice began at least as far back as the 13th century. It continued throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but was then largely phased out during the 17th and 18th centuries. With the coming of the French Revolution and the emancipation of western European Jews throughout the 19th century, the wearing of Jewish badges was abolished in Western Europe.

Enter Hitler. The Nazis, under Hitler’s direction, resurrected this practice as part of humiliation tactics during the Holocaust. Reinhardt Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, first recommended that Jews should wear identifying badges following the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938. Hitler liked the idea, because Hitler hated the Jews. Shortly after the invasion of Poland in September 1939, local German authorities began introducing mandatory wearing of badges. By the end of 1939, all Jews in the newly-acquired Polish territories were required to wear badges. Upon invading the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Germans again required the Jews in the newly-conquered lands to wear badges. Throughout the rest of 1941 and 1942, Germany, its satellite states and western occupied territories adopted regulations stipulating that Jews wear identifying badges. On May 29, 1942, on the advice of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler orders all Jews in occupied Paris to wear an identifying yellow star on the left side of their coats. Only in Denmark, where King Christian X is said to have threatened to wear the badge himself if it were imposed on his country’s Jewish population, were the Germans unable to impose such a regulation. Too bad some of the other nations did not stand up for the Jewish people too.

The Yellow Star was imposed on the Jewish people as part of many psychological tactics aimed at isolating and dehumanizing the Jews of Europe and especially by the Nazis. They were being directly marked as being different and inferior to everyone else. It also allowed the Germans to facilitate their separation from society and subsequent ghettoization, which ultimately led to the deportation and murder of 6 million Jews. Those who failed or refused to wear the badge risked severe punishment, including death. For example, the Jewish Council (Judenrat) of the ghetto in Bialystok, Poland announced that “… the authorities have warned that severe punishment – up to and including death by shooting – is in store for Jews who do not wear the yellow badge on back and front.” The star took on different forms in different regions, but everyone in the area knew what it meant. Of course, the Jewish people hated the badge for what it symbolized, even though the Star of David had stood for the Jewish people since about the 12th century. While the Star of David, known as the Magen David, has continued to be the unofficial symbol of the Jewish people, even on their flag, the Menorah continues to be the official symbol of Judaism (The Jewish people). It seems to me that they would not really want the Star of David after all of the persecution that has been associated with it, but I guess it could be looked at as a badge of honor, as they, as a people survived the persecution.

When people go missing these days, we are often not surprised. People seem to go missing all the time. Of course, most of them are murdered, or believed to be murdered. Very few are ever seen again, and as often as not, no one is ever prosecuted for their murder. This is not necessarily a new situation either. On February 1, 1896, one Albert Jennings Fountain and his eight year old son, Henry went missing near White Sands, New Mexico on their way home, after Fountain had attended a court term in Lincoln County. Mrs Fountain reported the two missing, and a search party was sent out the next day. On the Tularosa-Las Cruces road, about 45 miles from his home, the buckboard and team were found, along with Fountain’s papers, several empty cartridge casings, and two pools of blood. Missing were Fountain, his son, and Albert’s Winchester rifle.

Albert Jennings Fountain was born in Staten Island, New York on October 23, 1838 to Solomon Jennings, a sea captain, and Catherine de la Fontaine Jennings, Albert grew up to go to Columbia College before traveling all over the world as a tutor. He then settled in California, where he worked at a newspaper before studying law in San Francisco. Though the reasons are unknown, Albert began to go by the name of “Albert Jennings Fountain,” an Anglicized version of his mother’s family name. In August, 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army and was commissioned as an officer in California Column. He participated in the Union conquest of the Confederate Territory of Arizona and fought at the Battle of Apache Pass.

During his time in the army, he married Mariana Perez in October, 1862 and the two would go on to have nine children. By the time he was discharged at the end of the Civil War, Albert had obtained the rank of captain. He and his family settled in El Paso, Texas, where he went to work for the United States Property Commission, which investigated and disposed of former Confederate property. Later he worked as a Customs Collector, was appointed an election judge, and the Assessor and Collector of Internal Revenue for the Western District of Texas. With this background, it is not surprising that he decided to try politics and in 1869, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Fountain’s radical Republican views angered many Texas Democrats…my kind of guy. During the El Paso Salt War, Albert got into a shootout with a man named B. Frank Williams on December 7, 1870. Albert was wounded three times, but he killed Williams.

In 1875, the Fountain family moved to Mesilla, New Mexico, where his wife was from. It was here that Fountain began his law practice. Southern New Mexico, at that time, was still subject to frequent Indian raids and in 1878, Fountain became a captain in the first company of militia in southeast New Mexico, fighting in the campaigns against Chief Victorio and Geronimo. Continuing to serve in the militia, Fountain would reach the rank of colonel, a title that he was called for the rest of his life. In 1881, he was appointed to defend Billy the Kid in his charge for murder. In 1885, Fountain moved to Las Cruces to prosecute Federal land frauds. In 1888, he was elected to the New Mexico legislature, eventually becoming speaker of the house. Afterwards, he became a special prosecutor for livestock associations. In 1894 convicted 20 men for cattle rustling. His work as a politician and an attorney acquired numerous enemies for Albert, a fact that would prove to be fatal.

After an investigation into the disappearence, it was thought that a noted New Mexico gunman and rancher named Oliver M. Lee, along with two of his employees named Jim Gililland and William “Billy” McNew had perpetrated the crime. Eventually, all three were tried for the crime, but were acquitted for lack of evidence, namely the bodies, and the case remained open, with the Fountain bodies having never been found. Some historians also believe that the famed Sheriff Pat Garrett was assassinated while heavily investigating the Fountain murder, and that he might have been getting close to answering the age old question, “who done it”.

Myra Belle Shirley was born in a log cabin near Carthage, Missouri on February 5, 1848 to “Judge” John Shirley, and his third wife, Elizabeth “Eliza” Pennington. John Shirley was the black sheep of a well-to-do Virginia family who had moved west to Indiana, where he married and divorced twice. His third wife, Eliza, was on the Hatfield side of the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families, which ranks up there with people I wouldn’t want for parents. The Hatfield and McCoy feuds, while not starting until about 1865, went on for decades, and they were messy and confusing over those years. You might no know who Myra Belle Shirley was, or you might know her best at Belle Starr.

Myra grew up in a well to do family, after her father John Shirley made good in 1856 when he and his wife sold their financially successful farming venture raising wheat, corn, hogs, and horses in Jasper County, Missouri. When John sold the land, they opened an inn, a tavern, livery stable and blacksmith shop. Their businesses took up almost an entire city block. John Shirley had become a respected member of the burgeoning county seat of Carthage, and his daughter Myra Belle lived the life of a spoiled, rich girl, attending the Carthage Female Academy, where in addition to the basics, she was taught music and classical languages. She was a bright student, with polite manners, and a talent for playing the piano. However, she also liked to flaunt her status a “rich girl” and liked having an audience. She also loved the outdoors, where she spent many a day roaming the countryside with her older brother Bud, who taught her how to ride a horse and handle a gun…a little out of the ordinary, but still within the confines of a proper upbringing, but dramatic changes were coming for Myra.

When the Kansas-Missouri Border War broke out. Jasper County watched both armies pass through time and again, forcing residents to take sides, and making neighbors into bitter enemies. Irregular bands of “Jayhawkers” and “Red Legs” laid waste to Missouri communities in support of the Union. When son Bud joined Quantrill’s Raiders, John Shirley was a proud father. Bud, who knew the area and the people well, served admirably as a scout, quickly attaining a captain’s rank. But in June 1864 Bud was killed in Sarcoxie, Missouri. The raids had taken their toll on Shirley’s businesses and after Bud’s death, the “Judge” gave up, sold his Missouri property and moved his family to a farm near Scyene, Texas, a small settlement southeast of Dallas.

In 1866 the James-Younger Gang robbed their first bank in Liberty, Missouri, and fled with $6,000 in cash and bonds. Splitting up, Jesse and Frank James, along with the Youngers, fled to Texas, where they met up with Myra Shirley. Soon, Myra became smitten by Cole, quickly becoming a member of their “gang.” One of these outlaw bands, seeking refuge, stayed at the Shirley house one night. Belle later stated that it was there that she became reacquainted with the first man she ever loved. His name was Jim Reed, and she had first met him back in Missouri, where the Reed and Shirley families had been friends. The romance blossomed in Texas, and Belle and Jim married on November 1, 1866. The Shirleys had no objection to the marriage, as Jim Reed was not yet a wanted man. Jim moved into the Shirley household near Scyene and shared the farm chores. Later, he became a salesman for a Dallas saddle and bridle maker. By late 1867, though, he and Belle were living on the Reed homestead in Missouri. Early in September 1868, Belle gave birth to her first child, Rosie Lee. Belle adored the baby and referred to her as her “Pearl.” The nickname stuck. When Jim and Belle moved to Missouri, Reed was a wanted man, allegedly for murdering a man named Shannon. The two fled to California with their young daughter Pearl and before long a second child came along who they named Edward.

In 1869 Belle, Reed and two other outlaws rode to the North Canadian river country, where they tortured an old Creek Indian until he told them where he had hidden $30,000 in gold. With their share of the loot, Jim and Belle returned to Texas, where she played the role of “Bandit Queen” to the hilt. But, it wasn’t long before the outlaw life caught up with Reed and on August 1874, Reed was killed in a gunfight by a member of his own gang. Belle left her children with her mother while she rode the outlaw trail. In Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma,) Starr got involved with a flat-faced Indian outlaw who went by the name of “Blue Duck.” Of her life, Belle Starr stated to The Fort Smith Elevator about one year prior to her death, “I regard myself as a woman who has seen much of life.” On February 3, 1889, two days before her 41st birthday, she was killed. She was riding home from a neighbor’s house in Eufaula, Oklahoma, when she was ambushed. After she fell off her horse, she was shot again to make sure she was dead. Her death resulted from shotgun wounds to the back and neck and in the shoulder and face. Legend says she was shot with her own double barrel shotgun. According to Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, her death was due to different circumstances. She had been attending a dance. Frank Eaton had been the last person to dance with Belle Starr when Edgar Watson, clearly intoxicated had asked to dance with her. When Belle Starr declined, he later followed her. When on the way home, she stopped to give her horse a drink at a creek, he shot and killed her. According to Frank Eaton, Watson was tried, convicted and executed by hanging for the murder.

Belle’s children didn’t do much better, and turned out as one would expect, with the influence their mother had on them. Belle’s son, Eddie Reed, was convicted of horse theft and receiving stolen property in July 1889. Judge Parker sent him to prison in Columbus, Ohio. Belle’s daughter, Rosie Reed, also known as Pearl Starr, became a prostitute to raise funds for Eddie’s release. She did eventually obtain a presidential pardon in 1893. Ironically, Eddie became a deputy in Fort Smith and killed two outlaw brothers named Crittenden in 1895, and was himself killed in a saloon in Claremore, Oklahoma on December 14, 1896. Pearl operated several brothels in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas, from the 1890s to World War I.

The Mary Celeste began its fateful voyage on November 7, 1872. She set sail with seven crewmen and Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Sophia. The 282 ton brigantine battled heavy weather for two weeks to reach the Azores. It was there that the ship logged its last entry at 5am on November 25, 1872. The rest of the story of the Mary Celeste remains a mystery, although the ship was found in good shape and completely sea-worthy.

I find it strange to think that in the middle of the ocean, something can happen with little or no warning, that either takes the lives of people onboard a ship, or results in their disappearance. I understand mutiny, but then that does not leave a ship abandoned. So if not mutiny, how is it that the occupants of the ship did not see the other ship approaching? I know that pirates often overtook the ships, but the occupants of the ship were usually killed in a bloody battle. The people onboard did not just disappear. Nevertheless, something happened on the Mary Celeste between that final message on November 25, 1872 and December 5th, 1872, when she was spotted drifting along, in the Atlantic Ocean…empty.

The British brig Dei Gratia was about 400 miles east of the Azores on December 5, 1872, when crew members spotted a ship adrift in the choppy seas. Captain David Morehouse was shocked to discover that the unguided vessel was the Mary Celeste. It had left New York City eight days before him and should have already arrived in Genoa, Italy. He changed course to offer help. Morehouse sent a boarding party to the ship. When they went below decks, they discovered that the ship’s charts had been tossed about, and the crewmen’s belongings were still in their quarters. The ship’s only lifeboat was missing, and one of its two pumps had been disassembled. Three and a half feet of water was sloshing in the ship’s bottom, but the cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was largely intact. There was a six month supply of food and water…and no one to use it. So, the mystery began, and it has endured as one of the most durable mysteries in nautical history…What happened to the ten people who had sailed aboard the Mary Celeste? Over the many years since the discovery, a lack of hard evidence has only created more speculation as to what might have taken place. Theories have ranged from mutiny to pirates to sea monsters to killer waterspouts….some of which are completely ridiculous, but in the absence of evidence, people will speculate.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1884 short story based on the case posited a capture by a vengeful ex-slave, a 1935 movie featured Bela Lugosi as a homicidal sailor. Now, a new investigation, drawing on modern maritime technology and newly discovered documents, has pieced together the most likely scenario…which had nothing to do with Bela Lugosi. In fact, while it is unproven, it is thought that something a simple as coal dust could be the culprit. The idea is that the coal dust from a prior voyage filtered into the ships pumps, causing them to quit working. Then, it is thought that the captain, fearing that the ship would sink, ordered the passengers to abandon ship…well within sight of land at Azores. Anne MacGregor, the documentarian who launched the investigation and wrote, directed and produced The True Story of the ‘Mary Celeste,’ partly with funding from Smithsonian Networks. MacGregor learned that on its previous voyage, the Mary Celeste had carried coal and that the ship had recently been extensively refitted. Coal dust and construction debris could have fouled the ship’s pumps, which would explain the disassembled pump found on the Mary Celeste. With the pump inoperative, Briggs would not have known how much seawater was in his ship’s hull, which was too fully packed for him to measure visually. Of course, this is still speculation, because the ten people onboard were never heard from again, so the mystery continues.

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