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The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904

Home | Feature Stories | The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904


Dedicated to Bela Deraj who told me to get back to work! 🙂

 

This is a story I have wanted to write for a long time.

Over the last twenty-years, I have become convinced that the internet is 10-percent original, and the rest is just a copy. 

Case in point: When it comes to botched executions, the ‘same’ listicle gets republished several times a year by different content farms looking for cheap and easy traffic to make a fast buck. Ad revenue is the motive and there’s no motive to reward quality work because that’s just how the USA is now. Content churners are untrained, poorly paid, and the yet-to-be observed consequence is that the world is drowning in content.

 That’s why the name of Michael G. Schiller does not appear on any “Top 10” listicle, nor in Wikipedia, or even on the Death Penalty Information Center’s 10,000-page website – the largest resource for the dissemination of death penalty related information.

His absence from history of executed criminals is just as baffling to me as his own executions. Yes, plural. You see, Michael G. Schiller’s story is unique because he is the only executed prisoner who came back to life.

Twice.

In all the case studies of botched executions throughout the world, there have been: prisoners whose neck had to be hacked several times before it was separated; prisoners hanged who were partially or fully decapitated; those who strangled to death without a broken neck; and a few who even survived their own hanging. When it came to the electric chair, besides being burned or set afire, it was occasionally necessary for officials to order two, three, four, five, and even six applications of the electrical charge before they were declared dead.

But that’s not what happened to Ohio State Penitentiary prisoner Michael Schiller during the midnight hour of June 17, 1904. The first and last detailed account of his execution (until now) appeared in the 1908 book, Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murders, by Captain of the Guards Humphrey M. Fogle. [Historical Crime Detective Books will republish the original version of this book, December, 2021.]

As an insider privy to all that occurred within prison walls, Fogle’s book contains exclusive information of Schiller’s execution. Fogle’s story retold below is augmented by newspaper reports written by journalists present for the execution as official witness for the public.

When Michael G. Schiller was executed on June 17, 1904, he was the thirteenth man to be electrocuted by the state of Ohio. The prior twelve electrocutions had gone well, and there was no reason for prison officials to think Schiller’s would be any different.

Click to view larger images.

(All words and sentences in parenthesis below are the editor’s.)

Notice to content creators (podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, listicle regurgitators,) do not use this material without accurate accreditation to HCD. I’m tired of you acting you like did all your homework when you just grabbed it from this blog.

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NEVER BEFORE IN the gruesome history of the Annex (the official term used then for Ohio’s death row) was witnessed such a horrible and sickening sight as that which attended the execution of Michael G. Schiller, serial number 34,925, the Youngstown wife-murderer, just after midnight on June 17, 1904.

Electrician Marden had tested the chair several times that evening and pronounced it in perfect order. Schiller grew extremely nervous when he heard the officers testing the chair, and spent the evening pacing restlessly back and forth in the death cage. He flatly refused all spiritual consolation and would tolerate the presence of neither preacher nor priest. He ate sparingly of his supper and refused to take stimulants of any kind (whisky). He had maintained all along that something would intervene to save him from the chair. He had hopes that the governor would, at the last moment, commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment. He watched the old Annex clock with an anxious heart, as it slowly registered the flow of the river of time into the ocean of eternity.

At 11:30 p.m., the attending guards filed into the Death Cage accompanied by the prison barber. John O’Brien, the genial, good-natured, time-honored guard, who has witnessed more legal executions perhaps than any man in the United States, said: “Well, Mike, it is time to prepare for this unpleasant ordeal,” at the same time placing a stool for the condemned man to sit upon, and motioned for the barber to proceed. Then, and not until then, did the condemned man abandon all hope. From that time until twelve o’clock, he moved about as one in a trance, utterly oblivious to all his surroundings.

While this scene was being enacted in the silent hall of death, Superintendent Marden (supervisor of the prison’s generator) and his attendant were making a final test of the chair. All things seemed in perfect order, and the superintendent expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied that so far as his part was concerned, the execution would be a success. (There’s a lot of CYA going on in that last sentence because of what happened.)

Just as the old clock struck the fatal stroke of twelve, the muffled tread of approaching footsteps were heard within the outer corridor. In another moment, the old death-chamber door swung open, revealing a crowd of thirty-five or forty men formed in a semi-circle around the fatal chair. At a nod from Deputy Warden Wood, the death-march was taken up, and Schiller appeared in the doorway leaning heavily on the arm of Guard O’Brien. Skilled hands quickly adjusted the straps; the death-dealing electrodes were placed upon the shaven head and calf of the leg. The black-cap, which completes the last act of the fatal drama, was drawn over the eyes. The hush of death was on the assembly. The dropping of a pin, at that moment, would have grated harshly on the nerves of the spectators.

Warden Edward Hershey asked in a clear, firm voice, “Michael Schiller, have you anything to say before the sentence of the court shall finally have been carried out?’’ Schiller’s lips moved, but no sound came from them. The warden held his watch in his right hand; with his left, he reached for the fatal lever, and as he broke it, the body of Schiller shot upward as far as the clamps would allow it to go. There was a low hissing sound, as the 1,750 volts of electricity went coursing through his body. This was continued for seven seconds, then the current was reduced to 250 volts for the remainder of the minute; then the current was shut off, and the body relaxed.

Dr. Thomas, chief physician for the prison, examined the heart, pulse, and eyes; five other physicians did the same thing, and all pronounced him dead. The warden and the spectators filed out of the room and up the long hallway. The attending guards loosened the clamps and were in the act of laying him on the cooling board but, oh horrors! A stifled sigh comes from the lips! A gurgling sound emanates from the throat! He gasps and struggles for breath!

(Fogle’s Story Continues after Editor’s Note)

Editor’s Note: Exclamation points aside, it was the most shocking thing the prison officials had ever seen, pun intended. When he was declared dead by five physicians, the crowd of thirty-five spectators, including the warden, filed out of the death chamber.

After they had left, Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair, he lurched forward and fell over. He was still alive.

“He was straightened up in the chair, and he began to breathe heavily. Saliva was [falling] from his mouth and guttural groans sounded throughout the chamber, chilling the strongest men to the very heart,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported later that day.

Surviving did not mean it was over for Schiller. All death warrants state the prisoner shall be executed until he or she is dead. They were going to have to do it again. But it would take two minutes to reassemble everyone and have the generator in the power plant turned back on.

During that time, the Enquirer continued, “Schiller seemed to be regaining consciousness. At one time, he appeared to throw back his head as if making a desperate effort to talk. The sight was absolutely sickening. Spectators expected to see him recover.”

(Fogle’s Story Continues)

A courier was dispatched for the warden; the crowd was reassembled; the straps were quickly readjusted. By this time, the poor wretch was breathing quite naturally.

Then, it was discovered that the current had been shut off at the prison powerhouse (the building that housed the prison’s generator to supply electricity). A messenger was dispatched right away to the plant, a distance of several hundred yards. Soon, all was once more in readiness.

Again, the lever shot upward; again, the 1,750 volts of electricity went scorching and singeing through the body of Michael Schiller. This time the high voltage was continued for fifteen seconds, and then reduced to 250 for the remainder of the minute. This time, the doctors made a thorough and careful inspection, and after examining the body for twelve minutes, all declared that he was dead beyond the shadow of a doubt.

(Or was he?)

Once more, the crowd dispersed; the body was lifted from the chair and placed upon the floor to await the coming of the undertaker. The warden had reached his office, and a majority of the crowd had started home.

(Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair and carefully pulled to the floor where he was placed in the traditional position for burial. Two of the guards then covered his corpse with a sheet, and he was left there to await removal by the prison’s cemetery crew. As the guards were about to leave the execution room, Schiller let out a long, painful groan.)

The guards were horror-stricken and looked in terror at one another. Again, the gurgling sound was heard to come from the throat of Michael Schiller. Chief Guard O’Brien raised the sheet, and a sickening sight met his gaze. The man was gasping and struggling for breath. Again, the warden was summoned. This time he and the attending physicians came alone.

(There would be no spectators for the third and final execution of Michael Schiller.)

Let us draw the curtain upon this sickening scene. Suffice it to say that the voltage was increased to such an extent that no human being could come in contact with it and live.

The increased voltage literally burned the top of the head to a crisp.

Great was the condemnation of the press the next morning; but who was to blame? Expert electricians were summoned from all over the country. All pronounced the entire apparatus in first-class order and exonerated Superintendent (of electricity) Marden from any and all censure.

Schiller had scarcely tasted water for several days prior to his execution. This is the only plausible theory for his great resistance. The black population of the prison all declared that it was because he was the thirteenth man to die in the chair.

Schiller murdered his wife in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, June 1, 1903, literally disemboweling her with a butcher knife. Drunkenness on his part and refusal by his wife to give him more money led to the tragedy.

Schiller was foreign-born, ignorant, and illiterate, but by economy and thrift had amassed quite a snug little fortune, but whisky proved his ruin. Even his little children shrank in terror from him while he was confined in the Annex, and begged their nurse to take them away from him. His crime was a dastardly one, and the price he paid for it is beyond human description.

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Editor’s Note: His children were deathly afraid of him. After his arrest, his daughter Minnie, 12, and two sons, Gustave, 8, and Fred, 4, were allowed to visit their father on two occasions in the weeks before his execution. After their mother’s murder and father’s arrest, the children were separated by sex and placed in two different orphanages. Although they could have been adopted prior to his execution, Schiller refused to relinquish his parental rights, as he was hoping to use his daughter to plead for his life to the governor.

During their second and final meeting together (shorty before his execution), Schiller begged her to call upon the governor in the hope he would find it impossible to turn down a young, sobbing girl.

The following account is from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published 12 to 14 hours after Schiller was executed. 

“Go to the governor and save my life, Minnie,” Schiller pleaded.

“I cannot go,” she answered.

“Then write to him, for God’s sake, and tell him not to let me be electrocuted.”

“No, I don’t want to do that,” Minnie answered in an emotional voice. “The governor has decided and I do not want to ask him anyhow.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “This angered the father, and he (scolded) the child.”

A nun, who had accompanied the child to Columbus from her orphanage in Cincinnati, told a reporter that Minnie feared her father would kill her as he did her mother. She did not want to make the trip, and made the nuns promise her she would not be left alone with her father.

“There was a demonstration of Minnie’s fear during the final visit, when Sister Housegardner expressed a desire to see the electric chair,” the Enquirer continued. “She told the child she would be back in a minute and started, but Minnie followed declaring she would not stay with her father, even with the prison guard present.”

The day before his execution, Schiller, who was Austro-Hungarian, met with the same attorney who handled his ex-wife’s estate. He authorized the attorney to liquidate his property holdings in both the United States and Austria-Hungary. Then, only after some of that money was used to erect a burial monument, did he want the money to go to his three children.

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Newspapers barely mentioned the name of the victim. Her name was Mary, she was thirty-eight years old, and she was Hungarian. The Akron Beacon Journal was one of the few to remember her following her ex-husband’s botched execution.

The Deceased’s Crime

Schiller’s crime, a peculiarly brutal one, was wife murder. Late in the afternoon of June 1, 1903, Michael Schiller, a saloonkeeper of Youngstown, whose wife had secured a divorce from him, and the custody of their four children, called at her residence and demanded ‘that she resume her marital relations with him, informing her that if she refused to comply he would cut her heart out.

Schiller had been drinking and was in an ugly mood. Mrs. Schiller refused to yield to the request and, escaping from his grasp ran into the back yard to call (for) assistance. Schiller caught and held her while he stabbed her in the abdomen with a butcher knife. She was removed to the hospital, where she made an ante-mortem statement detailing the facts of the murderous assault. [She died five days later.]

The attack of Schiller on his wife was witnessed by neighbors, who seized him and held him until the police arrived. After the tragedy, Schiller never made any inquiry regarding the condition of his wife, and when informed of her death exhibited no emotion. Shortly before the homicide, Mrs. Schiller sent $4,000 to her former home in Hungary (the 2021 equivalent of $112,000 when adjusted for inflation), and was preparing to take her children there and educate them, when she was murdered.

Always in an Ugly Mood

Before Mrs. Schiller obtained her decree of divorce Schiller had been sent to the workhouse, having beaten her until she was scarcely able to appear against him.

At the penitentiary, where he arrived July 30, 1903, he displayed a stolid indifference. He maintained a stubborn silence and has been ever in a morose, and ugly state of mind. When visited by his children for the last time he exhibited little sentiment.

Michael Willow, of Youngstown, administrator of Mrs. Schiller’s estate spent part of the evening with Schiller and received from him power to administer an estate of unknown value, which Schiller said he owned in Austria-Hungary. The murderer asked that the proceeds from the sale of the property be given to his three children in Cleveland after a monument to him had been erected.

Moses Johnson, colored, will be electrocuted tonight for the murder of an insurance agent in Portsmouth.

Father Kelly, a Catholic priest, labored for hours with Schiller, but was unable to obtain from him a confession of religious faith. His little daughter had written him, urging him to accept Christianity.

 

A Final Note: Just like the Akron Beacon Journal reported, Moses Johnson was executed the following night. It took five applications of electrical charge before he was pronounced dead. He remained seated in the electric chair the entire time.

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Coming Soon to Amazon: Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murderers, by Dewy, Fogle, &  Morrow.


Abraham Lincoln wrote a True Crime Story, and it was Good!

Home | Feature Stories | Abraham Lincoln wrote a True Crime Story, and it was Good!


For a few short weeks during June 1841, residents of Springfield, Illinois, were caught up in the mass hysteria of a sensational murder case that had all the elements of an Edgar Allan Poe murder mystery. Three strangers from out of town arrive in Springfield, but one of them soon goes missing. Wild rumors abound and soon two of the men and their local brother are accused of murder. The motive, $1,500 in gold coins stolen from the dead man who is yet to be found. One brother turns against the other two and agrees to testify as a witness for the prosecution. More sensation-loving witnesses come forward to testify against the two brothers who can already feel the noose around their neck.

Their defense attorney was a thirty-two year-old future president of the United States who flips the script with a Perry Mason plot twist so outrageous, everybody just wanted to go home and forget it ever happened.

Everyone, that is, except attorney turned true crime author Abraham Lincoln. A week after the trial, he wrote about the events in a June 19 letter to his friend, Joshua Speed. In 1846, he wrote the following version for the Quincy Whig newspaper, now the Quincy-Herald Whig. It was later republished in the March 1952 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

Note: Dates in parenthesis are by the  HCD Editor. To the best of my knowledge, they are accurate.

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The Trailor Murder Mystery, 1841

by Abraham Lincoln, Esq.

In the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry, and Archibald.

Archibald lived in Springfield, the state capitol (where Lincoln practiced law at the time). He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers.

Henry, a year or two older, was a similar man of industrious habits. He had a family, and they lived a farm at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles northwest of Springfield.

William, still older, resided on a farm in Warren County, situated more than 100-miles northwest of Springfield. He was a widower, with several children.

Abraham Lincoln, about 1847

In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was a man by the name of (Archie) Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money.

In the latter part of May 1841, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at William’s house, resolved to accompany him.

They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday evening (May 30), they reached Henry’s residence, and stayed overnight. On Monday morning (May 31), they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boarding house, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain.

After lunch, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boarding house in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town.

At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late tea time, and each stating that he had been unable to discover anything of Fisher.

The next day (Tuesday, June 1), both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner (lunch) again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search, and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively.

Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of makings further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home.

No general interest was yet excited.

On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance (June 4?), the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence in Warren County, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange, and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and record what was the truth in the matter.

The postmaster at Springfield made the letter public and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time, had a population of about 3,500, with a city organization. The attorney general of the state resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the mayor of the city and the attorney general took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step.

In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity remain unsearched. Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves in the graveyard, were pried into and dead horses and dead dogs were disinterred, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters.

This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon (June 19?) without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry at their residences. The officers started on Sunday morning, meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher.

On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him in Springfield. The mayor and attorney general took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying.

They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald, had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that, immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home.

(This next sentence is 263 words in length!?!?!)

On Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body that, at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but, meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the Northwest of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road they should have travelled, entered them; that, penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body, and placed it in the buggy; that from his station he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour, returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes.

At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height. Up to this time, the well-known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. (He was afraid of getting lynched and welcomed jail for his safety.)

And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket, the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge.

Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way. Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday morning the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with.

About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house, early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston, in Fulton county, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house, and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the Dr. accompanied them.

On reaching Springfield, the doctor reasserted that Fisher was alive and at his house. At this, the (Springfield residents) were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal, that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling to secure their release and escape.

Excitement was again at its zenith.

About three o’clock the same evening, Mr. Myers, Archibald’s carpentry partner, started with a two-horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him.

On Friday (June 25?), a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath reaffirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed, and at the end of which he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure.

The prosecution also proved, by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present,) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the Northwest of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher.

Several other witnesses testified that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fishers body, and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods, as stated by Henry. By others, also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald had passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces. The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, etc., were fully proven by numerous witnesses.

At this the prosecution rested.

Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren County, about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home, and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer, as before stated; and that he should have taken Fisher with him, only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received early in life.

There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged, although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses.

On the next Monday (June 28?), Mr. Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person.

Thus ended this strange affair and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket, and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained. William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder.

Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject. 

Here’s a link to a 2010 article on the story that’s pretty good.

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The Price of His Inheritance, 1995

Home | Feature Stories | The Price of His Inheritance, 1995


This story is newer than most, but it’s also better than most, in the worst ways possible.

 

New Year’s Eve is a celebration of hope. For most, that hope is a resolve we make to begin again. To renew ourselves. To improve who we are, and be better than we were. To make resolutions, set new goals, and to achieve what we could not in the past. Hope like that flies a little higher for those who just want the world to be a little nicer to them in the New Year.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. On New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31, 1995, residents of Bastrop, Louisiana, were horrified to learn that an elderly couple, well known in the community, were found shot to death inside their modest home on Collinston Road. The bodies of Lee Elvin Morris, 69, and his wife, Helen Louise Morris, 68, were discovered by their son, Mark Morris, 39. The day before, on Saturday, December 30, Mark had dropped off his son, Ryan Mark Morris, 9, to spend the night with his grandparents. His parents were there, but his son was gone.

Because the bodies were found on New Year’s Eve day, a Sunday, and search teams looking for Ryan were deployed on Monday, New Year’s Day,  January 1, 1996, most Louisianans did not learn of the tragedy until Tuesday, January 2. Northern Louisiana is sparsely populated with small cities and towns where local newspapers offices were closed for the holiday.

However, the lack of initial news coverage didn’t even matter. What did matter, investigators soon discovered, was that the bodies of Lee and Louise Morris were discovered on the last day of the year.

On Wednesday, January 3, the Associated Press released an article by an unnamed reporter who traveled to Bastrop the day before to cover the story. One of the few people he interviewed was Mark Morris, who spoke a little too freely.

“I came in and the door was open. I walked in the house and found my mom and dad lying face down in the master bedroom.”

Mark added that when he saw his parents, the blood on their faces was only a small amount, and he couldn’t tell if they had been shot or stabbed to death. Before his interview was over, Mark made a strange comment that raised eyebrows across Louisiana.

“Somebody has killed my family and taken my boy,” he began. “If they took my little boy and killed him, there’s not going to be any plea bargaining. There’s going to be no plea bargaining to recover his body.”

Recover his body?

As investigators, reporters, and even his friends would soon learn, that bizarre, ‘why would you say that?’ remark was only the first time he did so during the case. It would happen forty more times.

Forty.

Stranger still, the AP article appeared at the bottom of page 30 of Alexandria’s Town Talk newspaper. The second article above the Morris case was an ironic coincidence nobody would understand until much later.

“More than 24 new state laws now in effect”

One of those laws was the catalyst to the entire case. Remember that for later.

On the same day Mark’s odd remark began appearing in newspapers, another news story said that authorities had questioned him and named him a suspect. Mark shrugged it off, said the questions were routine, and his suspect status was part of the process. “They say it’s normal because if they catch the guy, his attorney will scream ‘Why haven’t y’all investigated the family?’”

What Mark did not understand was that he had unsavory reputation within his own family and among many others scattered throughout Bastrop’s population of 13,500 at the time. (It has since dropped to 10,023 in 2019).

The Morris family was well known in Bastrop. Mark’s father, Lee, was born there in 1926, lived there his whole life, and died on the same day as his wife. Lee’s own father and mother, Avery and Mae Bell Morris, also lived in Bastrop and died there together on the same day as well, July 15, 1977. It’s unclear how Mark’s grandparents happened to die on the same day, but all four of them, Avery and Mae Bell, and Lee Elvin and Helen Louise, were laid to rest at Bastrop’s Christ Church Cemetery.

Lee and Louise had two children together, Linda (Morris) Stewart, born in May 17, 1954, and Mark B. Morris, born April 3, 1956. In 1995, Linda Stewart, lived in Bastrop with her three children.

Mark was married for thirteen years until his ex-wife, Norma, divorced him in 1991—a few years after she suffered a debilitating stroke. She returned to her hometown of Minden, Louisiana, where she could be closer to her family whom she needed. Unfortunately, her long-term illness forced her to leave behind the couple’s two children. Kristy Morris, fourteen or fifteen, and Ryan, nine, were left in the care of her ex-husband Mark. With many of his family members living there, perhaps she counted on her in-laws more than she did her ex-husband.

+++

For all that January, authorities were focused on finding Ryan, and unmasking the killer. For some reason, as indicated by newspaper reports, none of them ever considered that Ryan might still be alive. When his own father blundered by saying there would be no plea bargain for Ryan’s body, Morehouse Parish Sheriff Frank Carroll and his deputies understood they were looking for the boy’s body.

However, the terrain where a body might be hidden outside of Bastrop was difficult to explore. A leading member of the search team told reporters that in some areas, they could not get in there with a horse, and in others, they could not get there on foot. It could take a while, he cautioned.

The owner of an oxidation pond behind the couple’s home was dragged when the owner, Ray Wall, found suspicious disturbances in the soil. “There was evidence someone had been around that pond,” Wall said.

He may have been right.

On January 27, Ryan’s pajama clad body was discovered by a local teenager in a drainage culvert below the Naff Street Bridge, three miles from his grandparent’s home on Collinston Road. He had been shot once in the head with a .22 caliber firearm; just like his grandparents.

For nearly four weeks, hundreds of local and parish residents had searched for the reddish, blond haired Ryan Morris. It ended how they expected it would. With that mystery gone and the unimaginable grief began to settle in their hearts, those same people “bedecked the town in little yellow ribbons.”

Click to view larger images.

One month later, on February 27, around 11:30 a.m., Mark Morris was arrested by parish deputies inside of a convenience store on Collinston Road that had been a gathering place for all those who searched for his son. Across the street was his parents’ home: quiet, empty, and impossible to look at without imagining what happened in there.

When deputies walked up and began reading him his rights, Mark Morris looked like he was in shock, but he regained his composure later that day during a court hearing. Inside the courthouse, he showed no emotions and when he was led out, told somebody he knew, “Bring me cigarettes,” and smiled.

On Thursday, February 29, he was indicted by a grand jury for three counts of murder.

Finally able to reveal more information, Sheriff Carroll gave reporters some interesting details he could now share.

The first was that Mark was their number one suspect from day one, but they also had to consider his ex-wife, Norma, a suspect. She hated her ex-husband and when told by an FBI agent that Mark had been arrested and indicted for three counts of murder, Norma said her expectation all along was that he would be charged with the crime.

“I was just waiting for police to arrest him,” she said. Norma also made it clear that if he were found guilty, the only acceptable punishment for what he did to her son, and her former in-laws, would be the death. “He should be sent to the electric chair.”

The most interesting part of the investigation was the self-incriminating comments Mark had made before his arrest. A witness told deputies, and repeated at his trial, that when Mark was riding in his pick-up, they drove over the Naff Street Bridge, and Mark said, “My son could be under this bridge right here!”

Besides speculating on the exact location his son was later found, his friends were disturbed by other things he said.

One friend recalled that Mark had said he was going to be written out of his father’s will, and that the new one would go into effect January 1, 1996.

“That’s why I shot him, the dumb ass,” Mark said.

Another self-incriminating remark he made to a friend before his son’s body was found was that it might have been discovered in a shallow grave, but “that was before I moved him.” (He moved the boy several times, apparently).

Mark told friend Harvey “Scooter” Goleman that he had shot his dad in the eye, and his mother in the temple.

Those weren’t even the most heartless things he said before he was arrested. Bill Hall, an employee of a small local casino, said he saw Mark Morris there Saturday night, the day he dropped his son off with his parents. Morris was playing video poker and the two had a brief chat.

When he spoke again with Mark a few days after his parents were discovered, “I asked him if they were still looking behind (Lee and Louise Morris’) house, and he said, ‘They’re wasting their time looking there because they’re going to find him about three miles from here…. I don’t think it. I know it,’” Hall repeated.

Those were just a few of the self-incriminating statements Mark Morris blurted out. By January of 1997, Mark was up to forty. A few weeks earlier, a pretrial motion was held before State District Judge John Joyce who was asked to decide on the admissibility of those forty statements. The prosecution wanted them in, the defense wanted them out.

Judge Joyce filed his decision on January 18; thirty-six statements were in, four were out.

But 1997 was just a passing year on the long road to Mark’s trial. Firing lawyers and using every delaying tactic he could find, including a change of venue to Lake Charles, 220 miles south of Bastrop, Mark’s trial finally began on October 18, 1999—three years and nine months after he murdered his son and his parents.

District Attorney Jerry Jones asked for the death penalty in his opening statement and made it clear the motive was money; he wanted his inheritance now, not later. Mark Morris was deep in debt over a failed business venture. Initially, his parents were supporting him out of interest for their two grandchildren, but became outraged upon learning their son was wasting it on video poker and other self-indulgences. After many heated discussions, they realized Mark had no ambition to dig his way out the problems he created.

Lee was so disgusted with his son, he stopped supporting him, and told Mark he would be disinherited when their new will went into effect January 1, 1996.

Fearing for his future if he was cut out of the family will, Mark Morris decided to kill his parents before the day before the new one could go into effect. In an ironic twist, the January 3rd article, ‘More than 24 new state laws now in effect’ placed above the AP story on the Morris case had the answer.

In 1995, his parents were legally obligated to divide their estate equally among their two children. That mandated obligation was nailed in place by a 187-year-old state legal doctrine called ‘forced heirship.’ Lee and Louise Morris had no choice but to allow their prodigal son to inherit an equal share of their estate.

But that law came crashing down in October of that year (1995) when state residents overwhelmingly voted to repeal ‘forced heirship.’ Its relevance would cease to exist on December 31, 1995. After that date, parents could shape their estate trusts and wills however they wanted. And Mark’s parents didn’t want him to receive a dime. He didn’t deserve it.

Before New Year’s Eve, his parent met with their attorney, a new will was drafted, signed, notarized and filed at the courthouse. It would go into effect January 1, 1996, and there was nothing Mark could do about it.

It was a great plan, but not a bulletproof plan. Their son made sure his parents died on the very last day of a 187-year-old state legal doctrine.

District Attorney Jerry Jones then had to tell the jury nine-year-old Ryan was murdered simply because he was a witness. “I cared about that little boy,” Jones later said.

For his closing statement that came one week later, Monday, October 25, (1999) Jones told the jury that Mark “had dreams of high living on a food-stamp salary. But he couldn’t buy a corvette and feel the leather on his back. He couldn’t buy a fancy home on Frenchman’s Bend.” That was where all the rich people lived in Bastrop.

Between the opening and closing arguments, those thirty-six self-incriminating statements Mark made to friends were presented as evidence, with many of them called to the witness stand to recount to the jury what Mark had told them. 

However, the best of all of them, the golden ticket for a conviction, was not a person, it was a routine courtroom audio recording made during a December 4, 1996, pretrial hearing where Mark is overheard talking to his defense attorney, admitting to the murders. “I want to go on and confess. I did it.”

He later fired that court-appointed attorney, hired and fired several more, and, apparently, lost his attorney/client privilege from the 1994 hearing. The courtroom audio recording was ruled admissible.

His trial attorney argued to the jury that at the time, Mark was being sarcastic. Cynical. He was that way, after all. Nobody should take him seriously.

But they did take him seriously. One week after it began, the trial ended on Monday, October 25, 1999. The jury deliberated for fours and at 9:45 that night, Mark Morris was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.

In death penalty cases, a punishment trial occurs after the criminal trial. The punishment phase for Mark Morris began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday.

When the verdict was read aloud, Mark Morris was the luckiest man in the world that day. Faced with the choice of life in prison with no chance of parole, or death in the state’s electric chair, the jury could not come to the unanimous decision necessary to recommend a sentence of death. Although most of Louisiana wanted it to happen, one or more of the jurors were staunch, anti-death penalty supporters and they didn’t budge.

+ + +

As of May 2021, Mark Morris is sixty-five-years-old and resides at Louisiana State Prison Angola, where he lives out his days as inmate number 00419088.

If no family members claim his body when he dies, Mark Morris will be buried in the prison cemetery known as Point Lookout #2.

He will receive an impressive funeral for an inmate convicted of three counts of murder. His body will be placed inside of a prisoner made wood coffin adorned with prisoner made shrouds.  And then, his body will be carried to his grave inside of,

“A black, horse-drawn hearse modeled after a 1800s vintage funeral coach. It is pulled by two large white Percheron horses and driven by an inmate dressed in a black tailcoat and a black top hat. Six pallbearers follow the coach on the road to the cemetery and assist with the burial. Inmate ministers conduct the service.”

‒ historichouston1836.com

 

All the dignity of his death will end there. His grave will be filled with dirt, and his unmarked tombstone—a small, white cross made of concrete—will be put in place.

 Nobody will know he was even there.

Angola Cemetery ‘Point Lookout #2.’ Graves with white crosses have no names and no inmate numbers.

Final Note: Lee and Louise’s daughter, Linda Morris Stewart, passed away in 2019. She was sixty-five-years-old. She is buried in Bastrop’s Christ Church Cemetery where her nephew, parents, and grand-parents were laid to rest.

 

Story Author: Jason Lucky Morrow

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Free Audiobook Sample Chapter Available
‘The Carver Family Hatchet Murders, 1930’

Home | Feature Stories | Free Audiobook Sample Chapter Available
‘The Carver Family Hatchet Murders, 1930’



Last year, 2019, I was approached by former Broadway actor and audiobook narrator Charles Huddeston, who offered to narrate my two books in the Famous Crimes the World Forgot series. I’ve been approached before by other narrators, but passed on their offers for one reason or another. I’m so, so thankful that I did not so with Mr. Huddleston’s offer as you will soon learn that his rich, baritone voice is the stuff of legends. My personal opinion is that he is one of the top 10 narrators in the world.

He is just that good. 

When I listened to Mr. Huddleston narration for Volume I, I was so captivated in the telling of the story that I actually forgot for a time or two that I wrote the book. My self-dialogue was (Wow. This is a really good story…. Long pause… Oh, wait, I wrote this story!) Lost in the story as told Mr. Huddleston, I truly forgot I wrote it. When something that is read becomes something you listen to, its a different experience. 

I have posted the audio file for Chapter 3 of Volume I, ‘The Carver Family Hatchet Murders,’ to the blog, seen below. Downloadable audio files are also available. You can listen to the story from the blog, or download the audio files to your device.

I’m confident you will enjoy the 45 minute experience of a world class storyteller.

Click to Play or Download 62mb File as MP3 or WAV

 

 

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Serial Killer’s Anonymous: Chapter 4 ‒ The Mystery of the Hobo Jungles, 1950-51

Home | Feature Stories, Serial Killers Anonymous | Serial Killer’s Anonymous: Chapter 4 ‒ The Mystery of the Hobo Jungles, 1950-51


Hobocidal Maniac Lloyd Gomez Killed Nine Men in 15 Months

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October 15, 1953
San Quentin Prison, California

Six hundred and thirty days after he confessed to California authorities to murdering nine men between 1950 and 1951, Lloyd Gomez was about to get what he wanted: put out of his misery.

He hated life. During his twenty-nine years, the constant struggle to survive had worn him down to the nub. It had done bad things to him and he had done bad things to it. His confession was a suicide. He didn’t care anymore. Get it over with.

For the past thirteen years, when he wasn’t in prison or jail, young Gomez was what polite folks would call an itinerant farm worker, picking fruit or vegetable crops when in season. In between those seasons, his nomadic lifestyle riding freight cars up and down California labeled him a hobo. Today, they might call him a bum.

When not riding freight cars, he lived as a hobo—buying food if he had money, stealing some if he didn’t. Eventually, he killed nine men to get money. If he needed that money to eat or not, is up for debate.

During his lifetime, many of the larger cities in California had encampments of hobos that were a little community unto themselves, with shelter, food, and alcohol shared between them. Called ‘hobo jungles’ by many, these campsites were always outside city limits, near railroad tracks or rail yards, and near a river, lake, or pond if possible.

The Nevada born Gomez was the son of a Shoshone woman and a Mexican father. His mother died when he was young and his father was a strong influence on him during his early years, but not a good one. Gomez had a stoic personality, which never betrayed what he was thinking. If he did speak, more often than not it was to answer a question. Before he replied, Gomez would look at something else, gather his thoughts, and answer in a calm voice.

Behind his quiet demeanor and calm voice, however, was a hobocidal maniac who bashed in the heads of eight middle-aged men, which netted him a total of $62.26. The ninth man he killed, the one for which he would be executed for the following day (10/16/53), died a different sort of way.

Since his arrival to San Quentin’s Death Row on June 10, 1952, Gomez never had a visitor and no one ever wrote to him. Despite numerous requests for an interview from newspaper and radio reporters, he always turned them down. But on the night before his October 16, 1953 execution, Gomez made an exception and agreed to an interview with staff reporter Stanley Wilson from the Sacramento Bee.

Wilson was permitted to sit with Gomez in his death cell a few hours before midnight. Just outside his cell, a curtain obscured his view to the apple green octagonal gas chamber.  When Wilson asked Gomez if he was scared of what waited for him just behind that curtain, his nonchalant reply was typical for the man.

“Scared? Naw, I ain’t scared.”

1939 – 1951

The Mystery of the Hobo Jungles

In 1939, with a fourth grade education and an IQ of 61, seventeen-year-old Gomez left his home in Lincoln County, Nevada, to explore California by riding freight cars. From the start, he didn’t seem to fare-to-well in the hobo lifestyle. When he wasn’t picking crops, he was loafing and like most loafers, he got into trouble.  Between 1939 and 1941, he was arrested several times for minor offences including vagrancy, for which he served a thirty-day jail sentence.

Another arrest soon followed in January 1942 when Sacramento County deputies held him for a few days for suspicion of dodging the draft. He was soon released for unknown reasons only to be arrested two months later in Nevada for highway robbery. The way he told it to investigators and a Sacramento Bee reporter ten years later, was that in March 1942, he had acquired a revolver, and he was determined to use it.

“It was near my home in Nevada, (Pioche). It was on the highway and the fellow had a car. I went up to him and pointed the gun at him. I got nearly $1,000.”

But that’s not what happened. Gomez was lying. According to a one-paragraph story that appeared in the April 27, 1942 edition of the Reno Gazette, the offense was attempted robbery. The charge against him stated he threatened the life man of a named Bruce Olson and took his guns and ammunition. He was sentenced to serve a minimum of two and one-half years to twenty-years in the Nevada State Penitentiary.

The Gazette’s short report never mentioned if Gomez had used a firearm, nor anything about $1,000 cash taken from the victim. A thousand dollars cash back then is the same as $16,000 today, and most people don’t carry that much money with them, then, or now.

If he was lying, it’s not clear why.

Nineteen months later, young Gomez was joined by his father, Manuel Gomez, who received a life sentence for the 1943 New Year’s Day murder of Jesus Garcia in Carlin, Nevada. Both men, along with several others, were part of a railroad crew working at the time in the small town twenty-three miles west of Elko. Witnesses told deputies they saw Gomez beating Garcia over the head with a pick-axe handle. They did not know any of the details that led to the fight.

Señor Gomez claimed he killed Garcia in self-defense after Garcia tried to stab him with a butcher’s knife.

Eleven months later in November, an Elko County jury disagreed and found him guilty of first-degree murder. However, instead of recommending to the judge that he should die in Nevada’s famous gas chamber (the first in the country) they recommended a life sentence and in early December, father and son were reunited in prison. If he told his son his side of the story, and using a pick-axe handle to bash in Garcia’s head, it apparently made an imprint on the young man’s mind for crushing heads with repurposed caveman weapons became his modus operandi for the murders he would commit seven years later.

After serving four years on the attempted robbery charge, young Gomez said goodbye to his father when was released from prison in May 1946 due to overcrowding. Freedom gave young Gomez the opportunity to grow his rap sheet and a few months later, he was arrested and released in San Bernardino, California, for investigation of strong-arm robbery.

He dodged that bullet but caught another one on January 12, 1947, when he broke into the American Can Company’s Sacramento warehouse where he was caught by the night watchmen breaking into a candy vending machine.

A short article about his arrest appeared in the Sacramento Bee the following day.

“The police reported that Lloyd Gomez, a Mexican transient, who was booked yesterday for a burglary of the American Can Company, has admitted to burglaries in Los Angeles, Madera, Stockton, San Joaquin County, and in a sheep camp near the North Sixteenth Street Bridge in North Sacramento.”

He received a seven-month sentence to the county road camp for burglary.

Two patterns appear in that one-paragraph report that would mirror the future of his short life: being arrested in Sacramento, and spontaneous confessions. In fact, that was just the second time he was arrested in Sacramento.

The third time he was arrested in Sacramento came in May 1948. Convicted of assault, Gomez was sent back to the Sacramento County road camp to serve a sixty-day sentence building roads for the county. For some unclear reason, he walked away from the road crew a few weeks before his time was completed. Considering this fact, it’s probable he would have only left the road crew if his life was in danger.

But freedom and Lloyd Gomez were not a good match and that July (the same time he would have completed his road crew sentence) he was arrested in Las Vegas for counterfeiting and sentenced to serve one year and one day at the McNeil Island Federal Prison Penitentiary in Washington state.

After his release from McNeil Island in July 1949, Gomez stayed out of the law’s reach for more than fifteen months, his longest stretch. During that time, he started killing hobos.

The first one he killed was never identified. Gomez said he was a Native American man in his mid-40s, and he killed him near the railroad yards just outside of Oroville, California during the summer of 1950. He said the man had a bottle of wine and wanted to take him to his shack.

“When he was ahead of me, I picked up a rock and hit him on the head (six times). I got the bottle of wine and five cents.”

The man’s body was found six months later on November 27 one-half mile west of the Western Pacific yard by two pheasant hunters. At the time, the county coroner reported the he had been killed by a large, bloodstained rock found nearby, and that he had been dead for approximately six months. He was never identified.

By the time this discovery was made, Gomez had killed two more men.

On the afternoon of November 11, 1950, Gomez was visiting with John Joe “Cabbage” Kapusta inside his shack in the hobo jungle on the banks of the American River near Sacramento, when forty-three-year-old Warren Hood Cunningham spotted Gomez and charged at him, accusing him of stealing.

“He went after me with two pocket knives,” Gomez told a Sacramento Bee reporter shortly after his confession was released fourteen months later. “Some guy down there had squealed on me and told him I stole his two cans of beer about four days before that.

“I ran. Boy, how I ran, and he was still after me. I got away and I waited about three hours, I guess. I got mad. I got so mad I couldn’t stop. I had a gun buried over by the American River and I went back to his place with it.”

The gun was a .22 caliber rifle. From the tree line 60 to 100 feet away, he spotted Cunningham sitting by his shack with Cabbage Kapusta where the two were listening to a radio. Gomez took aim, fired three shots, and watched as Cunningham fell over. He then approached Cunningham and shot him three more times.

Kapusta who was nearly blind, couldn’t describe to police what the shooter looked like.

“I knew what I had done,” Gomez continued. “I ran. I went to Fresno. Then to Los Angeles. The idea was to go somewhere. Just keep going.”

Gomez did go to Fresno, and eventually Los Angeles, but between those two cities is the small town of Mojave where he bludgeoned Earl Franklin Woods to death with a stone on November 19, just eight days after he killed Cunningham. Gomez had asked him for a match and the fifty-year-old “grouchily refused.”

Gomez didn’t like his tone. He only found three cigarettes in the dead man’s shirt pocket.

A few days after murdering Woods and a few miles from Los Angeles, Gomez was arrested by Burbank city police for vagrancy. He served thirty days. Before his arrest, he had dismantled his rifle and gotten rid of it.

Released in late December, Gomez went for six months without killing anyone. When he did start up again, he killed six men in three months. On May 29, 1951, Gomez found Elmer M. Cushman sitting on an open-top rail car. He picked up a rock, approached without being seen, and beat the man to death with that rock. He pocketed $16.50.

Ten days later, he found an unidentified man sleeping in the tall grass near the railroad tracks by Stockton. Gomez killed him with a rock and a wood plank. Searching through his pockets, he found $20.

On June 22, Gomez was picking peaches near Merced, California when he spotted George Jones walk into the hobo camp there. The sixty-year-old found a spot he liked and began cooking some food. Gomez snuck up behind him and broke his skull with a rock. In the man’s wallet, he found $24.50.

On July 17, Gomez dropped a twenty-pound rock on the head of Arvid Ostlund near the railroad tracks leading out of Roseville. The forty-year-old only had one dollar on him.

His eighth victim was an unidentified man he found sleeping in his underwear one hundred yards from the railroad tracks near Marysville in early August 1951. “I threw sand in his face and hit him with a brick,” Gomez later said. His life was worth 21-cents.

On August 16, forty-six-year-old Roy Chester Hanson was minding his own business when Gomez found him sitting on a railroad car on the Southern Pacific tracks northeast of Sacramento. Hanson was his ninth and final victim. He couldn’t even remember if the man had any money or not.

The murders did not go unnoticed.

In June 1951, two criminal investigators with the California State Department of Justice spotted the pattern. Although the classification of serial killer was more than twenty-years away, they correctly assumed they were looking for one man, a hobo, who was killing other hobos with caveman weapons‒stones and wooden clubs. Looking through their files, they found victims killed in the same manner as far back as 1939.

Shortly after Hanson’s body was found, they publicly announced their investigation and several newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, dubbed it “The Mystery of the Hobo Jungles.”

Their news release revealed that the murders of a dozen men going back twelve years had seven things in common.

  1. All of the men were in late middle age,
  2. had done manual labor,
  3. and lived alone in hobo jungles.
  4. Their bodies were found in rail cars, near railroad tracks, or in hobo settlements.
  5. The victims were struck from behind with clubs or rocks
  6. and the beatings continued long after death. (Overkill.)
  7. They ruled out robbery and sex as possible motives and couldn’t piece together the killer’s compulsion other than he was possibly a madman – a maniac.

1951 – 1953

Confession Time

The end of his killing spree came on January 15, 1952, when Gomez was arrested by Sacramento County lawmen for the fourth and final time. The charge, vagrancy. In custody, deputies looked into his record and realized he had walked away from a county road crew back in 1948. He was given a sixty-day jail sentence on the vagrancy charge and would soon be charged for escape.

Nine days later, on January 24, Gomez passed a note to one of the guards that read:

“To Jailer:

“All in California. I killed 1 Indian at Oroville 1951 (it was in 1950). I killed 1 white men (sic) at Marysville. I killed one man at Roseville 51. I killed one man at Stockton. I killed 1 man at Merced. I shot 1 man six time in jungle Sacramento.”

Sacramento authorities contacted the two state investigators who rushed over to partake in the interrogation that soon followed. Their interest was in the twelve men murdered with rocks and clubs over the last thirteen years. Gomez’s initial confession included five of them and with aid of the victim files, he copped to three more, but not the four others they assumed he was responsible for killing. Gomez’s memory wasn’t the best but he did give them enough details for eight of them, which led them to later conclude he was telling the truth.

The bullet-riddled body of Warren Hood Cunningham was not on their list. He was, however, at the top of Sacramento County’s list. The following day, January 25, deputies took Gomez to the ‘jungle’ and there, not far from the riverbank, he pointed to a demolished cardboard shack where Cunningham was sitting when he shot him from 60 to 100 feet away. Of all the men he killed, Gomez remembered every detail of killing Cunningham, which was more than enough to satisfy the district attorney who charged him with first-degree murder that same day.

To back up their case, they found two men who were there: John Joe “Cabbage” Kapusta and Mike Gilbert. They knew Gomez as a man they called, ‘Indian.’ Although Kapusta was nearly blind, he recognized Gomez’s voice and said his general physical description was the same as the man who walked over and put three more bullets into Cunningham.

Gomez’s spectacular confession left investigators and newspaper reporters with two burning questions: why did he do it and why did he confess?

“I got hungry,” he told a San Francisco Examiner writer, who, like many others, asked him the ‘why he did it’ question. “I needed money to eat. I never was mad at the men.”

His food bill was $62.26 and eight dead men. He may have not been mad at them, but he was mad enough at Cunningham to shoot him six times.

When asked by a Sacramento Bee reporter, “How does it feel to voluntarily admit to nine murders?” a “dirty, ragged, unshaven” Gomez, noted for having “slender, strangely smooth hands” cast his “dreamy-like” eyes towards the long jail corridor and said, “in a low, calm voice:”

“I see the same thing every year. Life is no good. Both times I was in prison it was no good—it was tough. I don’t care what happens. Life is bad.”

Later, during that same interview, when asked if he understood what could happen to him, Gomez again turned his head to look at something only he could see, thought for a moment, and in the same low, calm voice replied:

“Maybe it means more time. Maybe it means the gas chamber or electric chair. I don’t care. If they gas me or put me in the electric chair that’s all right. I’m better off dead anyway. I don’t want to live.”

Lloyd Gomez meant what he said. Over the course of the next 631 days of his life, he only appeared to flip-flop once. On the first day of trial, after sitting next to his attorney for twenty minutes during jury selection, he saw an open door, pushed his chair back, and took off running.

He was recaptured before he could get out of the building.

The Interview

On the night of October 15, twelve hours before he was executed, Gomez gave his consent to an interview request by Bee reporter Stanley Wilson.

“The admitted slayer of nine men reclined nonchalantly on his prison cot and replied to questions,” Wilson began after a long introduction to his article. “‘Scared? Nah, I ain’t scared.’

“Gomez. who previously was described as having the mind of a child, was asked if he knew why he was in that particular cell (the death cell where condemned men are places the day before their execution).

“‘Sure. I’m going in there tomorrow,’ he said as he pointed to the green gas chamber where the cyanide pellets soon were to be dropped to end his life.

“‘Have you seen a chaplain?’” Wilson asked.

“No, I don’t want to see no chaplain.”

“Why?”

“I believe the same thing Dad does. He don’t believe in no religion.”

His reply about religion confirmed a statement he made shortly after his confession when he told a reporter he believed in God, but not religion. His dad, sixty-three years old at the time, was still in the Nevada prison where he last saw his son nine years earlier.

It was also the last time he communicated with him.

“Gomez continually blinked his eyes, reminiscent of the manner in which he responded to questioning during his trial,” Wilson continued. “However, he seemingly was unconcerned about his fate today (tomorrow morning). He answered to another question:

“’No, I don’t have any friends, I haven’t written and I haven’t got any letters from any friends or relatives,” Gomez replied. “I don’t want any friends. I don’t need ’em.'”

When Wilson asked him if he thought he had a fair trial, “Gomez reflected for several moments before he repeated the question as though talking to himself.”

“Yeah, I think so. I don’t think the attorneys can do any more.”

When the interview had begun, Gomez was eating his last meal, which consisted of fried chicken, fried potatoes, peas, a tomato and lettuce salad, toast, apple pie and coffee. The food and a warm bed were two things he liked about being incarcerated.

“Am I keeping you up, Lloyd?” Wilson asked after he had finished eating.

“No, I’ll sleep all right tonight. Don’t worry about me.”

“He never seemed to lose his nonchalance,” Wilson wrote near the end of his article.

The man’s indifference to his own fate seemed to bother the reporter, who noted it several times in his story published the following afternoon. In fact, it was made clear to readers in the first and fourth sentence of his article.

“SAN QUENTIN—Lloyd Gomez, 29 year old phantom hobo killer, walked to his death in the San Quentin Prison gas chamber this morning with the same calmness he exhibited during his trial in Sacramento a year and a half ago…

“When the condemned man walked the traditional last mile to the gas chamber, actually only a few steps, he was composed, seemingly alert and showed no emotion. He exhibited his typical and long-standing stoic attitude.”

 At 10:12 that morning, Lloyd Gomez was pronounced dead.

It was over with.

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