George A Thacher.

Why some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed online

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wrong, and you knew you had done something that was wrong?
A. Oh, yes, sure. Q. And that was the reason you were running
away? A. Yes. Q. Don't you feel badly that you killed this
girl? A. Yes, but 1 am satisfied now that I have.

There has been no psychological test made of Monaco, and
so I shall have to let the story of his crime and his confession
(as compared with confessions of feeble-minded delinquents)
indicate his mental status.

Chapter XVII


There can be no doubt but that sooner or later society must
take an intelligent interest in defective and delinquent children
not only because the defective and delinquent child is practically
certain to grow into a criminal, but because defective stock re-
produces its own kind. Of course the union of defective and
normal individuals will produce some normal offspring as well
as defective offspring, but even here succeeding generations will
show defective beings born of apparently normal parents.
Among individuals blessed with more sentiment than hard sense
the theory that good environment will radically improve a de-
fective strain is still very common, but it is inconceivable that
anyone who professes to believe that human beings can breed
in haphazard fashion with good results would for an instant
contemplate breeding a thoroughbred horse with a scrub, or a
greyhound with a mongrel, with any hope of protecting the
progeny from deterioration.

Of course the conditions of civilized society have made the
ideas of personal freedom and the sanctity of life the most im-
portant subjects for human thought, but personal freedom in

116 Why Some Men Kill

society involves a degree of responsibility and self-discipline
which a defective being cannot comprehend, much less exercise.

The idea of the sanctity of human life does not even require
defense or discussion if we are wilUng to apply its first prin-
ciples to the question of reproduction. To grant whelesale li-
cense to defective men and women to propagate defectives who
are certain in many instances to destroy human life as the weak-
minded beings whose life stories have been told in the preceding
chapters have done, is to disregard the sanctity of human life
instead of striving to protect it. The sanctity of human life is
a mutual affair if there is anything in the idea at all. We can-
not guard the defectives alone from destruction and allow them
the liberty to kill normal people, and in view of that truth we
are bound to segregate the dangerous defectives and to prevent
all of them so far as possible from reproducing their kind. Of
course there will always be a certain number of the defectives
due to inherited syphilis, alcoholism in the parents at the time
of conception, injuries at the time of birth and acute diseases
in infancy, not to mention the family strains where there is an
inheritance from some defective ancestor which occasionally
produces a defective child. This burden society must always
carry just as it must provide for the crippled, the diseased and
the insane, but it is quite unnecessary to encourage or tolerate
the certain reproduction of any defective stock. The kindest
regard and support of those defectives who are here does not
include encouraging them to become parents. That is as foolish
as to propose wholesale euthanasia.

There will be difficulties in the way, of course, in limiting
the reproduction of defectives, but the colonization of females
of the child bearing age will undoubtedly be the principal meth-
od, for the simple reason that a normal woman will very rarely
mate with a feeble-minded man, while there are unlimited num-
bers of men who will cohabit with feeble-minded women. Then,
too, sterilization of the feeble-minded male is a very simple
operation. A number of states have sterilization laws for indi-
viduals in prisons and other state institutions, but while some
of these laws have been decided to be unconstitutional for the
obvious reason that such a law is class legislation, still if such
a law were made generally applicable to males at least it would
not be open to that objection.

As I have said in a previous chapter, not all the defectives
have strong criminal tendencies, but many of them do have


such inclination and they usually appear in the adolescent years,
not perhaps as criminal acts but as tendencies which are bound
to grow. Very little can be done to check them because a weak-
mind offers no foundation on which to build character, though
such a mind may and often does know the difference between
right and wrong.

This knowledge of right and wrong combined as it is in the
weak-minded with lack of ability to deal in abstractions and the
consequent inability to foresee consequences together with an
almost utter lack of power of inhibition or self-control forms
the great stumbling block for the public in understanding and
dealing with the feeble-minded criminal. It has been the iron-
clad custom for hundreds of generations to hold the individual
responsible for his conduct when he knows the difference be-
tween right and wrong, and this custom may be said to be the
foundation principle of the criminal law in all countries. The
principle is perfectly sound of course for all normal persons,
but it has been recognized by the courts that it does not apply to
insane persons for obvious reasons. In the case of Jean Gianini,
reported by Dr. Goddard in his "Criminal Imbecile," it was
recognized by the court that Jean was a high-grade defective
and that his rudimentary knowledge of right and wrong did not
make him morally responsible for his acts, though the necessity
of permanently confining him was recognized and acted upon.

At the trial of Guiteau for the assassination of President Gar-
field insanity was made the defense. The experts differed wide-
ly, as usual, and Judge Cox in his charge to the jury laid down
the principle that if it was apparent in view of all the testimony,
including of course that of the alienists, that Guiteau knew the
difference between right and wrong that the jury should hold
him responsible for his criminal act and should find him guilty
of murder in the first degree. The jury did so find, and in view
of public opinion it could not have done anything else. Indeed,
so deeply is this idea of moral responsibility held to apply to
any human being who has any intelligence at all, and by that
I mean the average intelligence of a child of say seven years,
that it is a matter of policy to convict paranoiacs or imbeciles,
as the legal term has it, who present no violent or obtrusive symp-
toms for the jury to witness, where the evidence shows that the
individual has committed a crime. So far as the individual is
concerned it may not make much difference to society, but the
alternative logical application of the principle to other defective

118 Why Some Men Kill

persons is tragic in its consequences, for they ar€ allowed to go
their ways and given opportunities to commit terrible crimes,
and to reproduce their own kind.

This system also fosters general ignorance of the criminal
capacities of the weak-minded and encourages the belief that
such persons are harmless. It is true that some of them are
harmless, but the preceding chapters show what terrible crimes
are committed by the high-grade defectives and how because of
their reputation as harmless beings innocent persons may be
convicted of murder and their lives practically destroyed.

This is the direct outcome of popular ignorance on the sub-
ject, which is fostered and maintained by the courts and prose-
cuting attorneys partly through ignorance and partly through
slavish obedience to custom. One of the worst consequences of
this attitude of the courts and prosecuting officers is the effect
on sheriffs, police officers and detectives whose business it is to
discover the perpetrators of crime. They are selected somewhat
at random and given the power of the state to pursue and arrest
criminals, but it is beyond the bounds of reason to expect un-
trained minds to understand the criminal capabilities of such
delinquent defectives as John Sierks, William Riggin and others
described in this volume. Unless there is direct evidence of
such a feeble-mind committing a crime, the detectives in cases
where there is only circumstantial evidence, would be the first
to eliminate the weak-minded persons as beyond suspicion. The
more horrible and apparently unprovoked the crime the less
they would be disposed to suspect a member of an unfortunate
class Avho have been known as "innocents," "half-wits," "natu-
rals," "simple-minded," "fools" and other names indicating their
weakness of mind. At the same time the officers argue that as
a crime has been committed somebody must have committed it,
and in the absence of any legitimate clue suspicion is certain to
be raised against some person within reach by soine ill-natured
gossip or by some interested person, as in the case of the Wehr-
man murder.

Our system of detection and punishment of crime is not only
based on very incomplete knowledge of the subject but through
t)ur system of election and appointment of officers of the law
it becomes in part a matter of politics, which means that if a
terrible crime is committed our politically selected officers must
find somebody to punish for it or they will go out of office at
the next election. In cases where there is no direct evidence the

Conclusion llO

only thing to do is after a man is lonnd who was mar onough
to the scene of the crime to have made it ])hysically possible for
him to have done it, and who cannot establish an alibi, to raise
the hue and cry, as was done in the case of Arthur Pender, by
saying that as a soldier in the Philippines he killed Filipino
girls. This was justified on the ground that somebody killed
Mrs. Wehrman, and Mr. Pender lived only a mile away, and as
there was no evidence that anybody else did it he must have been
the murderer. The weight and influence of official proceedings
convinces the public through the newspapers that probably the
man who has been arrested by the sheriff is the guilty one.

In the case of Arthur Pender by means of an industrious
propaganda he was made out a perverted brute, and the detective
who secured his conviction was paid by the county where the
murder was committed, though he was not paid as much as
the sheriff wished to have him paid. The sheriff was in serious
trouble himself on account of charges affecting his honesty as
an official, and he needed some sort of vindication badly, while
the public wanted somebody punished for this terrible double

If district attorneys had the power to direct criminal investi-
gations there would probably have been a different sort of an
investigation of the Wehrman murder, but the district attorney
had to take what the sheriff furnished him. He also was in a
difficult situation, for the Wehrman murder was committed only
three months after the sadistic murder of the four members of
the Hill family, and that murder occurred in his district and
he had resolutely stood against the prosecution of an innocent
man who happened to be a neighbor of the Hills. To the disin-
terested observer it was apparent that the district attorney must
take the sherifrs evidence and fight to convict Arthur Pender
or retire from public life.

The district attorney did not retire from public life. He
did accept the evidence furnished by the sheriff and the detec-
tive hired by the sheriff and he succeeded in convicting Mr.
Pender of murder in the first degree two years after the crime
was committed on the extremely flimsy circumstantial evidence
which was offered and the court imposed the death sentence by

THE governor's ATTITUDE

John Arthur Pender was taken to the state penitentiary to
be hanged in the latter part of Governor Oswald West's admin-

120 Why Some Men Kill

istration. Upon application made to Governor West for pardon
for Mr. Pender he commuted the sentence of hanging to hfe im-
prisonment. Just in the last days of Governor West's adminis-
tration John G. H. Sierks confessed to the murder of Mrs. Wehr-
man and her child, but within three days he repudiated his con-
fession after hearing from his father that the family would go
away and never see him again as he had disgraced them. That
was doubtless the strongest appeal which could have been made
to a childish intellect, and the man with the child's mind after
writing a frank letter to his father (unknown to anyone) in which
he admitted his guilt, decided the next day to back out of his
confession and say it was a "black lie." In this situation Gov-
ernor West decided to pass the problem on to his successor,
Governor Withycombe.

Governor Withycombe never believed that John Arthur Pen-
der was guilty of the murder of Mrs. Wehrman and her child
and he was greatly interested in the investigation which I had
begun before he went into office. In fact, he furnished about
$200 for expense money for the investigation of clues which
were furnished by John Sierks in his confession. In the Spring
of 1916 the facts were all verified apparently to Governor Withy-
combe's satisfaction, but to further satisfy himself he appointed
Mr. Richard C. Lee, a former newspaper man of high standing
and intelligence, to make an independent investigation. Mr. Lee
went over the ground and interviewed all the witnesses whom
he could find and talked to the judges who presided at the trials.
He also read all the evidence from that at the coroner's inquest
and the preliminary hearing to the second trial. His conclusion
in his report to Governor Withycombe was that it was absurd
to claim that Mr. Pender had any connection with the murder
except that he lived about a mile from where it happened. Mr.
Lee says that his report contains some curious facts. One was
that Judge Campbell, who tried the case the first time (when
the jury disagreed) said to him that he decided if the jury
brought in a verdict of guilty to set aside the verdict.

In the matter of the murder of William Booth in 1915 and
the confession of the crime by William Riggin in the spring of
1917, Governor Withycombe, upon my pointing out to him the
possibility that the confession was true in view of the fact that
the evidence against William Branson and Mrs. Anna Booth was
purely circumstantial, gave the warden of the penitentiary in-
structions to make an investigation of all the facts of Biggin's

Conclusion 121

confession. Warden Murphy invited me to join with him in
this investigation and I was ghid lo do so. A detailed report
was presented to Governor Withycombe on December 1, 1917,
by me, and the report of Warden Murphy was presented to the
Governor four months earher.

District Attorney Conner, who convicted Wilham Branson,
and who agreed to consent to a pardon for Mrs. Booth in a
year's time if she would plead guilty to manslaughter, made a
most positive protest against a pardon for William Branson and
Anna Booth. Mr. Conner was elected in a three-cornered fight
by a narrow majority, and this murder trial was the big event
of his term of office and incidentally it cost the county $11,000.

Governor Withycombe made a rule not to grant pardons
without the consent of the prosecuting attorneys. The Governor
is required by law before granting pardons to inquire of the
judge or district attorney concerning the case, but of course he
is under no obligation to follow the suggestion of either. He
has absolute power under the constitution to pardon any person
convicted of crime, and in fact this is the only method provided
by which a person unjustly convicted of crime may be saved
from an unjust fate.

In the matter of the pardons of John Arthur Pender and of
William Branson and Anna Booth the Federation of Women's
Clubs in Portland appointed a committee in December, 1918,
to intercede with the Governor for these persons unjustly con-
victed of murder, but the Governor wrote the committee that he
could do nothing in these cases as the district attorneys who
had convicted these persons objected to his taking any action.

This brings into strong relief the political power of the dis-
trict attorneys of Oregon and indicates the truth of the remarks
of students from other nations "that the American people do
not govern themselves, but are ruled by a class of men who are
known as politicians." However at the last election less than
50 per cent of the voters went to the polls in Oregon, so perhaps
the voters prefer that the politicians should rule.

In the matter of the Hill murder, the district attorney of
Clackamas County, who by the way is a very different person
from the district attorney who refused to prosecute (in effect)
a neighbor of the Hills, has treated the information which I have
furnished him with the most profound contempt and has abso-
lutely refused to investigate for himself. It is true that he made
a contract with a consideration of $2000 with the private de-

Why Some Men Kill

tective who was hired by the sheriff who collected the evidence
against Mr. Pender in the Wehrman murder, to secure the evi-
dence in the Hill murder. However, Clackamas County refused
to pay the $2000, and the detective had to enforce collection
by a suit in court which he won. It is also true that the district
attorney has never attempted to use this evidence, which cost so
much, in any prosecution.

In the Hill murder case, William Riggin, who confessed, is
in the penitentiary but is eligible for release, and one of his
alleged accomplices was living in the woods in a suburb of Port-
land in February of 1919. Riggin's term will expire in a year or
two and he will be free to "get" one other man whom he has

The practical thing for consideration in these three murder
cases involving the destruction of the lives of seven people, is
that out of all the warring influences and bitter personalities
sufficient interest has been aroused to actually secure careful
investigations of the murders, and it undoubtedly now rests with
the general public to say whether the three innocent persons
in the penitentiary who were wrongfullj'^ convicted shall be re-
leased in the name of common justice, and whether the defective
and criminal beings who killed the Hill family shall be permitted
to go at large.

This volume was prepared for this purpose, and for the in-
finitely larger purpose of bringing the question of the criminal
tendencies of high-grade feeble-minded men before the public
in order that sensible measures may be considered for limiting
the procreation of feeble-minded stock.

The End.


"I, WilHam Riggin, under oath, do make this my true and
voluntary statement, to-wit: Rranson and Mrs. Rooth are not
guilty of kilHng Rooth. I shot William Rooth; Rooth always
had it in for me, and one time called me out of the poolhall in

Willainina aiui told mo thai I had a bad nanu-; said lor mc to
leave his wife alone. 1 told him, "To hell with him." He slapi)ed
me one the side of the head. Another lime I was standing on
a street in Willamina and Booth eame along and said to the
other fellow he was with, "There is a con."

"He always had it in for me. I said to myself that 1 was
going to get him. I think he tipped me off to the (lame Warden.
He always kept j)icking at me. On October 7, in the forenoon,
I went down past Dud Lee's place and got to talking with him
about Booth. He knew that Mrs. Booth and Branson wer(> going
together and that Booth was jealous. He told me that Booth
was going up in there all the time, trailing Billy Branson. Booth
watched me like a hawk and was jealous of me.


"On October 8, in the morning, I took a .32-20 rifle and a .38
Smith and Wesson hammerless revolver, blue steel, and went
up to the timber to practice shooting and wait for Booth. 1 had
a lot of mixed sheHs for the .38; some hand-loaded and some
were not. I practiced shooting for about two hours; 1 did not
expect to find Booth; I came down the road and saw Billy
Branson and Mrs. Booth talking together; when I passed them
they were off at the edge of the road just a few feet from the
edge of the road; they did not see me, or did not let on that
they saw me.

"I don't know that they saw me. I passed them and went
down the road for about 200 yards and circled around and came
back. I circled around to the left. I was about 40 yards from
them. There was some brush and timber between me and them,
I stood there and watched them. I saw Booth coming across the
field to the left of me, and when he was about 100 yards off I
shot at him with the rifle. He stopped and looked around and
i ducked down on the ground. He came on across and I waited
until he got to about 30 yards from me and I shot him with the
revolver. After I shot he partly turned around and fell kind of
on his left side. He said 'Oh, my God.' I shot at him again
and when he was on the ground, but I think I missed him.


"I would have shot all the shells at him, but I was afraid
someone would see me. I lit out to the left and went down
through the brush. I walked to a vacant shed near Willamina
where I had a horse that 1 hired from a stable in McMinnville,
got on the horse and beat it. The shed is near an old sawmill
at the edge of Willamina. It was a spotted pony with roached
mane. I rode out through (iopher Valley and past Baker Creek
Falls and passed Jerry Funk's place to Walker Flat. I took the
horse into McMinnville and turned him loose in the stable, but
not the stable tliat I hired him from. I got the horse out of the
Red Front barn and turned him loose in the barn below the
Commercial Hotel. There was no one in the barn. I rode right
in the barn and jerked the bridle off him and loosened the saddle
and put him in the stall and left. I walked back to Walker Flat

and stayed for three days with a man who was making boards
and posts. I went on over to Tillamook and ditched the revolver
and belt at Pinkey Stillwell's place on the road to Tillamook.
I put the revolver inside the picket fence. At the time the shoot-
ing took place I wore a blue shirt, corduroy pants and high-top
corked shoes. William Riggin."


"I, John G. H. Sierks, say that on Labor Day, September 4,
1911, I had been drinking with some men on the farm of J. L.
Smith, about five miles from Hillsboro, and went to bed about
seven o'clock; then got up about seven thirty and walked over
to Allavatch, a station on the United Railways, and took the
Electric car for Burlington. There I got off and stole a speeder
from the Burlington car shop section boss and went down to
Scappoose on the Northern Pacific line, there crossed over and
went on the logging road which crossed over to this woman's
place — crossed at Parson's Station. There I ditched it and went
over and stole a revolver out of a trunk in Hasson and Riley's
cabin, broke it open with a claw hammer in Hasson and Riley's
cabin. This claw hammer had only one claw. 1 took this claw
hammer and threw it in Pender's tent, then went up to this
woman's cabin. I found Mrs. Wehrman coming from the house
with a lantern — this was about ten o'clock. I saw her go in the

house and asked her for and she objected and spoke to

me harshly. She went into the house and got a gun and shot
at me. The bullet went into the cabin at the right hand of me
as I went in. I pulled out my revolver from my hip pocket and
fired three shots at her. I fired one shot at her from a distance
and she fell and then I placed the gun close to her forehead and
fired; I then placed it on her chest and fired again. The boy
was lying in bed with his clothes on. I thought he would wake
up and squeal on me so I fired at him. I placed the gun close
to his head and fired two shots. I found a hatchet in the wood
box and chopped and split her skull. I went over and took her
drawers off, then I ravished her. 1 was afraid someone would
catch me. I ran out and washed my hands in a basin on the
porch; the towel was hanging by the door and I wiped my hands
on it. Then I padlocked the door. I took the key and throwed
it away, then I took the gun back to Riley and Hasson's cabin
and put it in the trunk. The gun I took from Mrs. Wehrman I
buried in the edge of the garden. Then I went down where my
car was, put it on the track and rode to Burlington; then I took
the midnight out from Burlington to Allavatch Station. 1 got
home about four o'clock in the morning. I went to bed. 1 got

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Online LibraryGeorge A ThacherWhy some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed → online text (page 12 of 13)