George A Thacher.

Why some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed online

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reform school and the school records showed that his mentality
was poor and his habits depraved. One of Riggin's brothers said
that Daniels, alias Brown, hkc Ramsey, was known as a "kid"
man, or one with a sexual preference for children.

After Riggin's statement to me in July, 1917, I asked him
where Ramsey was and he told me that some weeks previous
he saw Ramsey in Tillamook when Warden Murphy took him
to find the revolver he said he killed Booth with, and that Ram-
sey came to the restaurant where they were eating supper and
attempted to talk to him. Warden Murphy told me that a man
did come into the restaurant and attempt to talk to Riggin but
that he sent him away. Later Riggin said that this was Daniels
and not Ramsey.

In August of 1918 Ramsey was arrested on the charge of
vagrancy and was sentenced to three months in the county
jail. I took Riggin's father and brother on one occasion, and
another brother later to the jail, and all three unhesitatingly
picked Ramsey out of a group of prisoners as William Riggin's
friend and associate at the time the Hill murder w-as committed.
They were absolutely' positive in their identification of Ramsey,
and two of them had given me a fairly good description of
Ramsey the year before, so this question w^as settled that Ram-
sey (by whatever name) and Riggin were living in the jungle
as hoboes at the time the Hill murder was committed.

A few days before this I arranged with Governor Withycombe
to have Warden Murphy bring Riggin to the Multnomah county
jail in order that he and Ramsey might be questioned about the
Hill murder. Attorney General Brown and First Assistant Dis-
trict Attorney John Collier of Multnomah County were present.
Riggin told the story of the murder substantially as he had told
it before, but when Ramsey was brought into the room he said,
"This was not Ramsey"; that Ramsey was a tall man wdth black
hair. Ramsey denied ever having seen Riggin, but he added his
comment about the tall man who was in the vicinity of the Hill
home at the time of the murder. Ramsey said there was such
a man in the neighborhood of the Hills at the time of the mur-
der and that he ought to be looked up. Riggin was much dis-
turbed at Ramsey's presence and trembled so noticeably as to

106 Why Some Men Kill

attract attention. John Riggin, Bill's brother, said that Bill told
him Ramsey had threatened to kill him if he did not do as he

On this same day Attorney General Brown, Mr, Collier, Wil-
liam Riggin and I went to the neighborhood of the murder and
Riggin gave directions as to stopping at the different points.
Near Ardenwald station Riggin pointed out the spot where he
and Ramsey met. Then he showed us just where he got the axe
from a neighbor's house. This was accurate. Then he showed
the former site of the Hill home and was entirely accurate in
this, though the house was torn down within a year or two of
the murder and no sign remains of its location. There is now
a plowed field where the house stood. Riggin described vividly
what happened the night of the murder and pointed out where
he and Ramsey crossed the road afterwards and followed a
cow trail back to near the spot where he got the axe, and where
their team was hitched. A number of days after the murder
bloodhounds followed a trail from the Hill house along this cow
path and lost it at the spot where a bloody cloth was found.
This was about where Riggin said the team was standing.

Then Riggin directed us to where he and Ramsey had a camp
and where he said Ramsey buried his trousers, which were

Within a couple of weeks I took Riggin's father to Salem,
and we had a lengthy interview with Riggin in Attorney General
Brown's office. Warden Murphy, William Riggin, Riggin's fa-
ther, the Attorney General and I being present. Riggin admitted
to his father and then to all of us that he recognized Ramsey
when he saw him in Portland but was afraid of him and so said
he was not Ramsey, He also admitted that Charlie Daniels,
alias Brown, was with them on the night of the murder, and
said that Daniels had been a good friend of his and that he
did not like to tell about his part in the murder.

Later Riggin saw Ramsey in the Multnomah jail and said
that Ramsey was the man. Ramsey denied ever having seen
Riggin but the look in his eyes when Riggin came into the room
together with the positive identification of Ramsey by Riggin's
father and Riggin's two brothers was conclusive that Ramsey
and Riggin knew each other.

At this time Riggin admitted for the first time that he was
inside the Hill house the night of the murder.

Riggin insisted in his story to Attorney General Brown that
he was paid -$100 for watching outside and the motive of the

The Hill Murder 107

murder was robbery. This is palpably unlriie. Kig^in said lie had
a saddle horse and that the Fitzgerald laniily at IMue Lake farm
would corroborate this. 1 learned that Higgin worked lor the
Fitzgeralds at intervals lor a number of years as he said he
did, but they knew nothing of his saddle horse. Uiggin told the
Attorney General that it was a light night when the murder was
committed. This is true as there was a brilliant moon. Biggin
was badly confused in telling of the time the men spent inside
the house, but in common with defectives generally he has no
idea of estimating time. He shows this clearly, and his father
says he never could tell about the passage of time.

Riggin told of his association with Daniels after the murder
and of some of their illegal operations together. Daniels had a
rendezvous in the coast mountains and Higgin admitted that
Daniels was the man who tried to talk to him when he was in
Tillamook with Warden Murphy. This confusing Daniels with
Ramsey, which Riggin said he did to protect Daniels, together
with the aliases of the two men, has made the story hard to
unravel. However, we know that Riggin and Daniels had been
friends for years, and Riggin and Ramsey lived together in the
jungle at the time of the murder, and that Riggin has described
the murder and given details which are true.

Before analyzing the confession there are two points to be
remembered and held in mind constantly:

First, it makes no difference whether Riggin is weak-minded
or crazy or normal if his story is corroborated by the facts. A
fact does not cease to be a fact, if corroborated, because a crazy
man or a weak-minded man relates it, though there is apt to be
confusion and exaggerations and false statements about details
if a weak-minded man tells a story of crime.

Second, the question of Riggin's confession being an inven-
tion must be weighed carefully. If it was invented, was it in-
vented six and seven years after the murder, or was it invented
at the time and concealed six years and then partially told and
fully told a year later? Could it have been invented six years


In William Riggin's confession of the Hill murder, if we
eliminate his statements which are obviously untrue and then
consider the facts which have been corroborated, we shall be in
a position to decide whether the confession is an invention to
obtain notoriety, or whether it is the truth as to the central facts

108 Why Some Men Kill

but colored by the vanity of a defective man. There is no middle
ground. Either Riggin was implicated in this murder or the
story is palpably absurd. Riggin has been in prison since Octo-
ber, 1915, and since he confessed he has stood by his story,
though some of the details are false. Nobody had suspected him
of the crime and there is nobody in the prison who would derive
any advantage from Riggin making this confession.

Riggin says that the motive for this murder was robbery.
This is untrue and absurd as well. The treatment of the bodies
settles that as well as the known poverty of the Hills.

Riggin made conflicting statements about the time the mur-
derers were in the house, but he cannot estimate the passage of
time. Few defectives can, and some normal people are lacking
in that capacity.

Riggin told different stories about walking, riding in a rig
and riding horseback to the scene of the murder. This detail
is not vital either way, but it tends to discredit him generally.
Riggin's imagination ran away with him here as a defective's
is apt to do in giving details.

Riggin placed all the blame on Ramsey when he found that
I knew Ramsey, though after he talked with his father he cleared
up this and other misstatements. Riggin told Attorney General
Brown in August, 1918, that Ramsey went by the name of Flynn.
In Riggin's confession to the sheriff of Washington County in
May of 1917, he said Flynn was one of the murderers. He also
said Brown was one. Later it developed that Brown was an
alias of Charlie Daniels, a reform school chum of Riggin's.

Riggin told me that Ramsey tried to talk to him in Tillamook
when he was there with Warden Murphy. Warden Murphy
said that some man tried to talk to Riggin but that he sent him
away. Later Riggin admitted that this man was Daniels, alias
Brown, and not Ramsey. Riggin explained that he was trying
to protect Daniels as Daniels had been good to him.

Riggin when he first met Ramsey in Portland in August, 1918,
denied that it was Ramsey, but the meeting was absolutely unex-
pected to Riggin and he trembled very much on meeting Ram-
sey. However, there is no doubt of Ramsey's identity. That's
absolutely settled, and Riggin's father and two brothers posi-
tively identified him in the jail as the man Bill Riggin was
living with in 1911. Riggin admitted that it was Ramsey the
next time he saw him, so while Riggin did not tell the truth at

The Hill Murder 109

first, he admitted it later and explained that his fear of Ramsey
induced him to deny that Ramsey was the man.

These are the statements in the confessions which tend to
discredit Riggin's story of the murder.


Riggin says that the night of the murder was a light night.
This is true as there was a brilliant moon.

Riggin has said on every occasion that the murderers did not
go in at the front door of the Hill house but went in at the back
door. This is true, though the only Portland newspaper which
referred in any way to the doors said that the front door was
found open the next morning. This is untrue. Riggin's story
is correct about this detail and it was impossible that he should
have got it from a Portland newspaper. He had some other
source of information. He said one man got in a window, but
this is unreasonable.

Riggin showed Attorney General Brown, Mr. Collier and me
just where the Hill cabin stood. This was accurate and showed
that Riggin had personal knowledge of where the Hill cabin
stood. However, it is absolutely established that Ramsey lived
in the vicinity and that Riggin was living with him at about the
time of the murder. Riggin could have learned of the location
of the house even if he had no connection with the murder.

Riggin showed Attorney General Brown, Mr. Collier and me
just where he got the axe. This was exactly accurate. At the
time of the murder there were five different newspaper stories
as to where the axe was and only one of the five was accurate.
If Riggin got this detail from the newspapers he picked the
right story out of five different stories. Then too he showed
us the spot in August, 1918. The murder occurred June 8, 1911,
and the newspaper stories were printed in three days following.

R. A. Delk said at the inquest, June 9, 1911, that the axe was
"on our rear step porch — south side."

The Portland News said that the axe was left leaning against
front step of his (Delk's) home.

The Journal of June 9 said the axe was standing in front of
his (Delk's) house and that probably the moon shone on it and
attracted the murderer, but the next day the Journal said that
"he (the murderer) picked the axe from the side steps of J. T.
Delk's house." (This is correct.)

The Oregonian said that the axe "leaned against a side porch."

110 Why Some Men Kill

The Telegram said that the axe was "taken from rear of

So if Riggin learned where the axe was from the papers,
taking pains to pick the right story out of five, he must have
remembered it most tenaciously for over seven years to enable
him to go to the spot and put his hand on the step where the
axe was taken.

Riggin showed where the murderers went after the murder.
This corresponded to the trail followed by the bloodhounds to
the point where the bloody rag was discovered. The story of
the bloodhounds was printed in June, 1911. Riggin told his
story on the ground in August, 1918.


In view of all the confusion of Riggin's confession and his
contradictions and his obviously untruthful statement of the
motive, can it be said fairly that the confession is an invention
of a weak-minded man? If it was an invention, when was it
invented? Was it invented in 1917 and 1918 or was it invented
in June of 1911? Riggin had been in prison nearly two years
when he told the story of this murder and he told it at the same
time he told of the murder of William Rooth, which he undoubt-
edly committed.

Ramsey denies all knowledge of the Hill murder but he ad-
mits that he was living in the neighborhood when it occurred.

Ramsey also says that the tall man described by Riggin was
in the neighborhood at the time of the murder and that he
should be looked up. Charlie Daniels is a tall man.

To go back to Riggin's wholly voluntary and surprising con-
fession to Sheriff Applegatc of Washington County in May of
1917 we find that Riggin said his accomplices in the Hill murder
were Flynn and Rrown. That confession was received with
incredulity and ridicule, but a year and a half later Attorney
General Rrown, whom nobody would accuse of leading a wit-
ness, brought out the fact that Flynn was one of the names that
Ed Ramsey went by. Ramsey was Riggin's partner or com-
panion at the time of the murder, as we know from independent
testimony, and was in the vicinity of the Hill house the night
of the murder. It also appeared at this conference in Attorney
General Rrown's office in 1918 that Rrown, whom Riggin told
Sheriff Applegate about in 1917, was Charlie Daniels, also known
to be a companion of Riggin and a friend of his in the reform
school. I called up the reform school by telephone from Attor-

The Hill Murder 111

noy (icncral Brown's oflicc and got tlu' record of Daniels'
detention and the story of liis low mentality and depraved habits.

So we have a clear thread of facts rinining Ihrongh the con-
fessions given by Higgin in his apparently contradictory and
confusing statements. This was secured by patiently following
Riggin's story, verifying every feature and asking for explana-
tion of the discrepancies.

Riggin's father, who has been an industrious and respectable
citizen of Oregon for many years, was especially helpful in get-
ting explanations of contradictions and misstatements from his

Nothing is known of Daniels in connection with the murder
except that a man answering his description was in the vicinity
at the time and it is known that Daniels and Riggin were old

Applying the sound principle that Riggin's confession is either
palpably absurd or else that Riggin was implicated in the mur-
der, it seems reasonable to believe that Riggin was guilty as he
says he was. If he was guilty, the fact that he was living with
Ramsey does not prove that Ramsey was guilty too, though
Ramsey is a weak-minded man but shrewder and stronger both
mentally and physically than Riggin.

However, the condition of the bodies of the murdered family
indicates strongly that one man could not have been guilty of
the sexual atrocities practiced. Ramsey's character in the matter
of the abuse of children is known to be vicious, and Moll, whom
I ha^ve quoted, points out the sadistic tendencies of men of this

However, in Oregon, no man may be convicted of murder
on the testimony of an accomplice unless there is corroborative
evidence. Ramsey's presence near the scene of the murder early
in the evening, and his threats against some woman or girl as
testified to by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Vale, might be construed
as corroboration in view of Riggin's confession, especially in
view of Ramsey's character and his known sexual perversion.
If the facts could have been presented to a trial jury at the time
of the murder, there is little doubt but that such a jury would
have convicted both Riggin and Ramsey whatever it might have
done about Daniels. Here were three defective men and one
was known to be sexually abnormal, and another one confessed,
and thej-^ were at the scene of the murder or near by.

However, at a distance of over seven years there is little

112 Why Some Men Kill

interest in any murder so far as securing a conviction goes. And
yet as a study of the criminal capacities of weak-minded and
abnormal men this account of the Hill murder is a contribution
of considerable value to the subject. The time has passed when
any innocent man could be convicted of this murder on so-called
circumstantial evidence, but suspicions and doubts must remain
while the theory of the detective is not shown to be unreasonable
and improbable.

Chapter XVI


In August of 1918 Giovanni Monaco, aged 32 years, shot and
killed Mary Spina, aged 17 years, in her father's home in Port-
land, Ore., because she would not marry him. He went to the
room of the girl he loved, at night, and shot her seven times
with an automatic revolver. He said on the stand that the
reason he did not shoot her more times was because while he
kept pulhng the trigger there were no more shots in the revolver.
The girl was asleep when he entered the room. She had refused
to marry Monaco, and so he killed his love because he loved
her so. Poor Mary Spina's body was riddled with bullets as
she lay asleep in her father's house, and then Monaco started
for Canada. He was brought back and tried for murder in
October, 1918. With all the naivete of a child he testified on
the stand that he was insane when he killed his love, and he
gave as the chief symptom of his mental disease the fact that
he had cried every day for months because his love for this
girl whom he wanted to marry. When asked by the district
attorney what made him crazy he replied, "Love." This com-
pletes the circle and incidentally illustrates the type of mind
possessed by Monaco.

Monaco's attorney bolstered up the defense of insanity by
evidence tending to show that crazy people always know when
they are crazy, which will doubtless be of interest to alienists.
He also brought out the statement from Monaco that he forgot
about killing Mary Spina until he saw the fact mentioned in a
newspaper. On cross-examination by the district attorney Mon-


Giovanni Monac.a. a high-j^radc inoinii, who kilh'd M:ii\ Sjiiiia, ujivd 17 ycais. in
Allfilist. 1!I1S, because slie would not niariv him. Moiiaca has {^oiie to the peiiiteiitiarx
lor life.

The Spin a Murder 1 1 3

aco said in answer to a question as to why he did not talk about
killing Mary Spina while he was on his way to Canada imme-
diately after the killing, that he had forgotten all about it. Then
he was asked by the district attorney what he thought when he
saw the account of the murder in the papers. His response,
accompanied by an eloquent shrug, was that it was in the papers
and so it was of no use to deny it.

All this story demonstrates is the childish lack of ability to
reason about the effect of this silly story on the court and the

The murder was a peculiarly cold-blooded and brutal one
and the explanation is so silly — if it was intended seriously —
that it raises a question about Monaco's mental condition.

I had a long talk with Monaco just after he was brought back
from Canada and finally I asked him why he did not kill him-
self too. He said, "I did think about jumping off Broadway
bridge that night." This is like Tronson's statement in his con-
fession of murdering the girl who would not marry him in South
Portland in 1914. Tronson got as far as Castle Rock, Wash.,
immediately after the murder of his loved one, but said he was
planning to come back and kill himself.

Monaco shot his love seven times and snapped the revolver
alter that. His story and his cross-examination showed beyond
any possibility of doubt that he is weak-minded or in other
words that he is a child in mind. He was denied what he wanted
and so he killed.

The members of the trial jury eyed Monaco in intent and
puzzled curiosity, for he showed no signs of distress aside from
being rather pale, and he was apparently perfectly sincere in
his defense and told his story as though he were a disinterested
witness. The jury did not know that Monaco was a moron, or
high-grade feeble-mind, and consequently an irresponsible per-
son. The ^ury convicted Monaco of murder and he was sen-
tenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary.

In his statement to the district attorney Monaco answered all
questions readily. Q. Her father wouldn't let her go with you?
A. Yes. Q. When was that? A. That was last June. Q, June of
this year? A. No, June of last year. Q. After that did you
stay here in Portland? A. No; not when I was going to jail the
first time. Q. How long were you in jail? A. Nineteen hours.
Q. Then where did you go? A. I go in British Columbia. Q, You
go in British Columbia? A. Yes, for six months. Q. You were

114 Why Some Men Kill

in jail for threatening to kill her, weren't you? You said you
were going to kill her, or something like that? A. No, she had
a letter from me. I wrote her a letter to go away, she with me.
Q. As I understand it, you have been ordered out of town twice
for threatening to kill this girl? A. Yes. Q. That is right, is it?
A. Yes. Q. When did you come back to Portland the last time
after you were ordered out? When did you come back? A. The
3rd of this month; August. Q. What did you come back for?
A. I was crazy. Q. Did you kill this girl? A. Yes. Q. Where
did you get the gun? A. I get the gun in Seattle. Q. What kind
of a gun was it? A. A little pistol. Q. An automatic? Inspector
Morak: Do you want to show it to him? Mr. Collier: Yes.
(Inspector Morak produces gun). Q, Examine the gun I hand
you and state if that is the gun you used. (Hands gun to pris-
oner.) A. I guess it is, yes. Yes. (The gun so handed to pris-
oner is identified as a ,25 Colt's automatic. No. 168199). Q. Is
that the gun you got in Seattle? A. Yes. Q. When did you get
the gun? A. When I was going to Vancouver last year. Q. When
they sent you to jail in the month of May, you made up your
mind if you got out you would kill her? A. Yes. If she married
me, all right. If she didn't, I going to kill her. Q. And you
made up your mind to do that last May? A. Yes. Q. That was
why you came back? A. Yes, that is all, for that cause, I was
crazy, I never can get in the city and all the time will be cry-
ing and sore of that thing. Q. So you didn't have any other
business in Portland, but came back here for the express pur-
pose of killing her? A. Yes, that is all. Just for this deed. That
is true. I don't care if they send me to jail all my life. I want
to tell the truth. Q. You knew it was wrong to kill her, didn't
you? A. She done me wrong and sent me to jail twice. Q. You
knew it was wrong to take life, didn't you? (Talks in Italian to
Morak.) Inspector Morak: I didn't have no more brains then.
Q. As a matter of fact, you know you shot her while she was
asleep. She didn't wake up at all when you shot her? A. No,
she was waked up a little bit. Q. Did she say anything to you?
A. No. Q. Did she say anything to anybody? A, Just "Oh, Ma."
Q. Started to call for her mother? A. Yes. Q. And then you
shot her? A. Yes. Q. Where did you shoot her first? A. I don't
know. Q. How many times did you shoot her? A. Oh, I think
all seven times. Q, Why did you run away? A, I was scared
of the police. Q. Why? Did you think they would kill you?
A. No. Q. Why were you scared of the police then? A. Afraid


of arresting. Q. Afraid of bcinif arrested? A. Yes. Q. You
wanted to get away? A. Yes. Q. You knew what you had done?
A. Yes, I knew what I had done. Q. You knew that it was wrong
to do that? A. Yes. Q. And you were running and trying to get
away from that? A. Yes. Q. You didn't want to be caught?
A. No. Q. You knew that if they caught you you wouUl be pun-
ished? A. Yes. Q. You knew you would be punished for doing

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Online LibraryGeorge A ThacherWhy some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed → online text (page 11 of 13)