George A Thacher.

Why some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed online

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the lowest places of amusement in the cities and by evading
and deceiving the police and sheriffs to whom they ap|)car as
more or less harmless hoboes. To this brotherhood belongs the
man Mho killed William Booth at Willamina, Oregon, on Octo-
ber 8, lOin, and who says of Booth, "I told him I would get him
and I did get him!"

There is probably no doubt but that the fact that Booth's
widow and a young man who was a neighbor of the Booths in
Willamina were found guilty of Booth's murder and are now
in the state penitentiary where Booth's actual murderer is doing
time for larceny committed after Booth's death, has worked on
his mind until he imagined that the authorities knew of his
guilt. His mental powers of resistance are not great and so
he found it a relief to confess — this sorry boy-Indian-bad man
of the jungle.

Mrs. Wehrman's murderer who is of a slightly different type
is the man involved in the second tragedy of murder related
in the following chapters.

John G. H. Sierks is nearly 30 years old and he also belongs
to the moron class. He was born in the woods of Columbia
County and never went to school in his life, but his father
taught him to read and write and he is quite proud of his
ability to write a letter. John never has been able to master
mathematics. If his father attempted to correct his erratic
use of the multiplication table John would fly into a passion

and ask, "What the difference does it make to you? I am

doing this!" John preferred children for playmates when he
was 18 to 20 years old and was very jealous if not allowed to
associate with them. His greatest delight was to wander through
the woods with a gun and revolver, for he has a passionate
fondness for firearms. He has a good sense of location, and
it would be impossible for him to lose himself in the woods.

He is much attracted by the opposite sex but he is awkward
in showing his fondness. The wife of a neighbor tells of his
meeting her in a wood road and after passing her of his hur-
rj-^ing back through the timber in order to meet and pass her
again and of repeating this attention until she was exceedingly
frightened. Of course he has been made the victim of all
sorts of stupid practical jokes concerning his interest in women,
which has made it more difficult for him to approach women
and girls in an easy way. His father tells of John's attempts to

20 Why Some Men Kill

kill him and other members of the family. On one occasion
his father was at work on a scaffold and John said to his sister
and the folks there that he was going to shoot the old man
and every damned thing off of the scaffold to see them fall.

On another occasion he gave his sister some poisoned wheat
to give to his little brother and when she did not do it he told J
his father to look out for Lena as she had some poisoned wheat
and w^as going to take it to kill herself. The sister, however,
had buried the wheat and did not say anything about it until
questioned because John had a habit of making life miserable
for her when she told of his bad conduct.

At another time John placed a charge of dynamite in a ]
stump near the house with the plan of setting it off when his
father was near, but Lena set it off when no one was about,
which led John to tell her, "You are always sticking your nose
in my business. I'll put a stop to that," etc. One of the neigh-
bors said that John told him that he set giant powder under a
stump and if it had not been for the girl not keeping her
damned mouth shut, he would have gotten the old man all

His father said John often asked him to go hunting with ,
him, but that he would never go because he was afraid John 1
would shoot him in the back. I

John's father said that a neighbor had three or four young
girls and that his children used to go to play with them but ,
that the neighbors objected to John's coming. John became j
very angry and said that his brother and sister should not go
either. They did go, however, and while there playing in the ,
chicken house three shots were fired and one bullet went
through the chicken house w^hile the children were there. It
was not long until John came along with a rifle and said to the ,
children, "I want you damned kids to come home." I

This gives an idea of John's conduct when he was crossed,
and of course when he had been drinking (he was now 21)
he was more irresponsible than ever.

John is very vain and broods over schemes to make it appear j
that he is smart and clever. '■

His confession of how he killed Mrs. Wehrman in Columbia
County because she would not respond to his request shows
this tendency in describing how he made the trip to Scappoose
at night and got the revolver out of Riley and Hassen's cabin
and committed the murder and got back to Washington County

Confessions of Crinit' 21

by the next mornini>. Thai wouhl have been a (hffieult feat,
but it has since come to hght through the statement of John's
sister that he was at home for nearly two days before they
discovered the body of Mrs. Wehrman and her child. The story
of all the circumstances in later chapters shows John's cunning
and how he came to repudiate the confession after he had made
it. John's responsibility is not very great but this brief account
shows his capacity for crime and the temptations which he
could not resist. At the same time he knows the difference
between right and wrong and has been constantly unhappy
about what he did and cannot refrain from talking about it.
He cannot learn from experience and will always be a menace
to society unless he is confined.

Chapter III


In the pleasant village of Willamina on the banks of the
Willamina river just at the gateway of the crossing of the Coast i
mountains to the Pacific ocean, the Booth family was living
in October of 1915. The husband and father was William
Booth, a laborer and mechanic in Willamina. His wife, Anna
Booth, was 32 years old and the mother of two children, Lora,
aged twelve years, and Ermel, a boy several years younger.
Mrs. Booth's father and mother lived about two miles or more
to the west and north of Willamina, and Mrs. Booth was in the
habit of walking out frequently to see her mother who was not
in good health.

On October 8th, immediately after the noonday meal, Mrs.
Booth left her home to walk to her mother's. Within half an
hour later, Mr. Booth left the home and while he started in a
different direction at first he took the same road outside of the
village that his wife had to follow to go to her mother's. It
was rumored in Willamina that Mr. Booth was jealous, at least
this was the story given in evidence later, for on this day Wil-
liam Booth was shot and killed by someone among the trees
and bushes on the bank of the river a mile and a half from
Willamina. This spot was near the road which Mrs. Booth had
to follow to go to her mother's and which Mr. Booth also fol-
lowed. Mr. Booth's murdered body was accidentally discovered
about two hours after the killing.

During the afternoon of October 8, 1915, G. D. Carter, who
lived a few miles west of Willamina, Yamhill County, Oregon,
was on his way home from the village when he discovered the
dead body of William Booth lying by the edge of Willamina
river. Booth had been killed by a bullet from a .38 caliber

The body lay on its back by the edge of the stream, the
feet upstream, and one hand in the water. Apparently Mr.
Booth had just got over the fence which came down to the
stream at right angles, for his body was above or on the up-
stream side with his head near the fence post. He had been
seen by Mrs. Yates, a neighbor, at half-past one o'clock, going
towards the bushes and trees on the river bank on the lower

Willi <.M Hi(.(.i.\. ;m iiuiiatc of the Ore-
gon peiiitciitiiiry, who confessed to the
murder ol' William Hooth at Willamina,
Oregon, on October S. I'.ll"), and whose
story is corroborated in many details —
(Chapters :'>-.">. Rij^inln is a liis'i - tirade

The Booth Murdrr 23

side of the fence just before the shot was fired. Mrs. Yates,
however, did not attach any particuhir significance to the sound
of the shot which she heard very soon after Mr. liooth disap-
peared among the hushes and trees, and it was two hours later
or 3:30 P. M. before the body was accidentally discovered by

There was no direct evidence whatever as to who did the
shooting, though the sheriff's deputy and the coroner and
neighbors searched the narrow^ strip of woods along the river
bank until dark, and also again the next morning. After the
conclusion of the coroner's inquest the next day William Bran-
son, a young man of 23 years and a neighbor of Booth's, was
arrested for the murder. Mrs. Anna Booth, aged 32 years, the
widow of William Booth, was also arrested. It was the assump-
tion in the neighborhood that young Branson was improperly
intimate with Mrs. Booth, and that Mr. Booth had followed
Mrs. Booth, who was on her way to visit her mother, and that
Mrs. Booth and young Branson were surprised by the injured
husband, whereupon Branson promptly shot and killed Mr.
Booth. This theory was adopted by the district attorney at
William Branson's trial for murder, but the only evidence of-
fered the jury of improper intimacy between Mrs. Booth and her
young neighbor was that Branson had been seen on numerous
occasions some months before talking to Mrs. Booth as she
stood on the front porch of her house in Willamina while he
(Branson) was on the sidewalk outside of the yard.

Judge H. H. Belt, who was the trial judge, said in his charge
to the jury, "It is claimed in this case on the part of the prose-
cution for the purpose of establishing a motive on the part of
the defendants for the killing of William Booth that illicit or
improper relations existed between the said defendants, William
Branson and Anna Booth.

"You are instructed as a matter of law, that there is no
evidence in this case establishing adulterous relations existing
between the defendant Branson and Anna Booth."

It was admitted by the defendant Branson that he had bor-
rowed a .38 caliber revolver from his uncle Milton Carter to
take on a fishing trip in August of 1915. Mr. Carter says this
revolver was never returned to him, and that he did not ask
for its return until the day of the preliminary hearing, though
he admitted that Branson told him in hop-picking time to go

24 Why Some Men Kill

to his house and get the revolver if he wanted it. Branson says?
that the revolver had disappeared and it has never been found, i'
Some small articles of jev^elry disappeared from the Branson
home at the same time.

There is no doubt but that Mrs. Booth was somewhere in
the neighborhood when her husband was killed. The shot was, I
heard at about 1:30 P. M. t

As to Branson, various witnesses testified to seeing him at »
the brick plant (which is three-eighths of a mile from the place |
of the murder) going towards the localitj'^ on a bicycle at about }.
one o'clock on the day the murder was committed. Other wit-
nesses testified to seeing Branson in Willamina at the time the
murder was committed. Branson wore a red sweater on the 3
day of the murder and was a noticeable figure in consequence.
There was a discrepancy in the time as to when the different
persons involved were seen at the brick plant and bridge ac-
cording to the testimony at the preliminary hearing and at the '
trial. There was no direct testimony as to the presence of
anyone concerned at or near the place of the murder except
Booth, who was seen in a nearby garden just before the shot
was heard. Mrs. Booth was seen within half an hour later
near the place. That is to say, all the evidence was circum-
stantial. At the first trial the jury disagreed. Branson and
Mrs. Booth were convicted at the second trial but the verdict
was reversed by the supreme court. At the third trial Branson
was convicted of murder and sentenced to the penitentian^'^ for
life. Mrs. Booth was not tried with Branson at this time, but
upon advice of her counsel and wdth the understanding that
she would be paroled from the penitentiar^^ at the end of one
year, she pleaded guilt}^ to manslaughter and was sentenced
to from one to fifteen years. Mrs. Booth has two children to
whom she is devoted and the prospect of being able to go back
to them at the end of a year decided her to plead guiltj^ as a
conviction with a life sentence seemed certain if she insisted
on denying her guilt.


This case illustrates the weight of circumstantial evidence
where the suspicions of a community have been aroused, and
how a jur3'^ near the time of a murder may disagree as to the
weight of the circumstances and how later public feeling crys-
talizes into a conviction of guilt.

One of the best prosecuting attorneys I know, who had no

The Booth Murder 25

interest in the case, said to me that in view of the evidence he
did not sec what tlie jury convicted Branson on. 01" course
somebody killed Booth and there were several witnesses who
claimed they saw Branson and Mrs. Booth going in the direc-
tion of the place separately (not together) before the time of
the killing. On the strength of that testimony a boy of 23 was
sent to prison for life and the widow of the murdered man
would have received the same sentence, if she had not tried to
get back to her children in a j^ear by pleading guilty to man-

However, here is another piece of circumstantial evidence
quite significant which was brought out at Branson's trial for
murder :

It will be remembered that Branson, according to all wit-
nesses, wore a red sweater on the day of the murder.

At William Branson's trial Harold Lewis and Clarence Car-
ter testified that on the day of the murder they were at work
with their teams in a field about half a mile or more down the
Willamina creek from the place of the murder, and that at
about half past one they heard a shot and that shortly after-
wards they "saw a man walking pretty fast down the creek in
the brush right in the edge of the creek." They stopped their
horses to watch this man who was some 250 j^ards distant.
After they stopped their horses this man ducked down in the
hollow and the witnesses could only see the upper part of liis

The district attorney asked, "How was he dressed?"

Answer, "He had on either a black or dark blue jersey
sweater and a black hat."

This man was seen by reputable witnesses and he ducked
out of sight when they stopped their teams to watch him, and
this occurred shortly after the shot at 1 :30 which undoubtedly
killed William Booth. No one but Branson was under sus-
picion at this trial and it was admitted that he wore a red
sweater on the day of the murder. Several witnesses claimed
they saw him at the bridge a quarter of a mile from the place
of the shooting and several others claimed they saw^ him in
Willamina near the time the shooting occurred.

The story of the man seen hurrying down the creek by
Lewds and Carter (which was told at Branson's trial) has a
particular interest in view of the confession of William Biggin
in May of 1917 that it was he who killed William Booth on
October 8, 1915.

26 Why Some Men Kill •

The circumstances of William Riggin's confession indicate!
that he was suffering from remorse for his crime and also
because Booth's widow and young Branson were paying the pen-
alty for this murder. f

In making this confession to his father, G. L. Riggin, whom '
he had requested to be present, and to Sheriff Applegate audi
Deputy Sheriff McQuillan at Hillsboro, William Riggin began by
holding up two fingers and saying, "two are suffering for some-
thing they haven't done," and went on and gave the details of
his killing William Booth at Willamina.

In explaining his motive for killing Booth, Riggin said that 1
Booth "had it in for him" and had publicly called him a "con"
and had warned him to keep away from his (Booth's) wife.
Riggin is vindictive and uncontrolled in his passions and has .
homicidal tendencies.

Riggin described in his confession the place where he shot
Booth and said that afterwards he walked down through the
brush to where he left his horse which he had hired in McMinn-
ville. "At the time the shooting took place I wore a blue shirt,
corduroy pants and high-top corked shoes," In a latter statement
to me he volunteered the information that he wore a black hat.

There is also some significant circumstantial evidence about
Riggin's shoes. At the third trial it came out incidentally that
marks of hob-nailed shoes were found in the soft soil by Booth's
dead body. On the day of the murder Branson was wearing but-
ton shoes with smooth soles, while the shoes that Riggin said he
wore had projecting nails.

Riggin's confession, made many months after Branson's trial,
is thus clearly confirmed by testimony given at Branson's trial
for the murder of Booth in these particulars which obviously at
the time had no possible bearing on Branson's guilt. Harold
Lewis and Clarence Carter testified that they "saw a man walk-
ing pretty fast down the creek in the brush right in the edge of
the creek," shortly after they heard the shot at 1 :30 P. M. When
they stopped their teams to watch him he ducked down and
soon disappeared. They said this man "had on either a black or
dark blue jersey sweater and a black hat."

Branson wore a red sweater and was riding a bicycle on the
public highway. Branson also wore button shoes with smooth
soles, while Riggin says he wore "corked shoes" and the testi-
mony at the third trial of Branson showed that someone with
hob-nailed shoes had stood near Booth's body.

The Booth Murder 27

Riggin said in his confession that he shot Wilhani Hoolh.
Then he went on to say that he went to Willamina on Octoher
7th, 1915, on a horse which he hired at a stable in McMinnville.
He stayed over night in Wiihiniina and on the 8th he walked up
the river and practiced shooting in the timber for a couple of
hours. Then he came down the road and saw Billy Branson and
Mrs. Booth talking together but he did not know if they saw him.
Riggin said he had talked with a man in Willamina who spoke
of Branson going with Mrs. Booth and of William Booth "trailing
them," (One of the state's witnesses testified that he talked to
William Branson about Booth being jealous and that Branson
was defiant and threatening. , Branson denied this on the stand,
however.) Soon after seeing Branson and Mrs. Booth talking,
Riggin saw Mr. Booth coming across a field and he shot at him
but missed. He ducked down out of sight and when Booth came
on again he waited until he was about thirty j'ards away and
then shot him with his revolver, a thirty-eight Smith and Wesson.
"After I shot he partly turned around and fell kind of on his left

Apparently after assuring himself that Mr. Booth was dead,
Riggin said that he "lit out to the left and went down through the
brush." He went to a vacant shed near an old sawmill on the
edge of Willamina where he had put his horse. "It was a spotted
pony with a roached mane." He rode to McMinnville b}' way of
Walker Flat and turned the horse loose in the stable. There was
no one in the stable at the time.

Then Riggin says he walked back to Walker Flat and stayed
there three days with a man who was making boards and posts.
After this, "I went on over to Tillamook and ditched the revolver
and belt at Pinky Stillwell's place. I put the revolver inside the
picket fence. At the time the shooting took place I wore a blue
shirt, corduroy pants and high-topped corked shoes."

William Riggin is about 38 years old and has been a "bad
man" for these 20 years. He has a vindictive, revengeful nature
and suffers from uncontrolled fits of rage. He began his career
of crime as a youth by stealing a horse and saddle. For this he
was sent to the reform school at Salem. At a later period he
went to the penitentiary for larceny, and served various senten-
ces in county jails, according to his own account. Within two
weeks after the murder of Booth Riggin was arrested for stealing

* Note: William Riggin's confession is given in full in
Appendix A.

28 Why Some Men Kill

a gun, was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary where he
is now. Riggin's reputation as a thief was such that the sheriff
of Washington County asked the Governor for permission to
take him to Hillsboro to clear up some robberies. Riggin was
very much disturbed by being taken to the Hillsboro jail from the
penitentiary and he finally blurted out to the sheriff: "I know
what you want me for; you want me for the Booth murder." '

Riggin's vindictive, uncontrolled rage, which led him to lie
in wait for Booth and kill him, had been satisfied and remorse
had followed and he told the sheriff if he would send for his
(Riggin's) father he would tell the whole story, which he did
upon his father's arrival at the Hillsboro jail.

For the sake of brevity I will give the facts corroborating his
confession as I go along. Riggin said he hired a horse in
McMinnville to ride to Willamina at the time he killed Booth.
Here follows sworn statement of A. R. White, who kept a livery
stable in McMinnville :

"I, A. R. White, being sworn depose and say that I keep a
livery and feed stable in McMinnville and have been in that busi-
ness for the past five or six years. I remember renting a spotted
pony with a roached mane to Bill Riggin about the time that
William Booth was killed in Willamina in 1915, I think that
Bill said he wanted to ride the pony to Willamina but I cannot
speak with absolute certainty. I remember that I told Bill Riggin
that I had a bunch grass pony who was mean to ride. Bill said
that did not matter, I remember that Bill had the pony about
three days and that I found the pony in the stable one morning
and did not see Bill Riggin again at all after he hired the pony.
I also remember very distinctly that Bill never paid for the use
of the pony at the time mentioned in October, 1915."

(Signed) A. R. White.

In regard to Riggin being seen in Willamina, Mrs. Lottie
Smith, half-sister of Riggin's, says that she knows that Riggin
was in Willamina at the time of the murder, though she does
not remember seeing him that day. The brother and sister talked
it over in my presence and Riggin told his sister of seeing her on
a load of ties coming into Willamina. She admitted making such
a trip and described the pony Riggin rode but said she did not
remember the exact day, but that it was about the time of the
killing of Booth. This Mrs. Lottie Smith was living a few miles
from Willamina at the time of the murder.

The Booth Murder 29

At the trial of William Branson Mrs. Yates testified to seeing
Booth in her garden just hcfore the shooting and said that he
went towards the road and jumped over the fence and turned to
the east towards the creek and went right into the brush. About
a minute after Booth went into the brush she heard a shot. Some
two hours later Booth's body was discovered at this point on the
water's edge.

In a supplementary statement made by Riggin to District At-
torney Conners on July 25, 1917, Riggin said, in answer to ques-
tions that Booth was in the garden patch (Yates'), that he "went
out and came around"; that he "went to the edge of the road and
then came back," and that he went to the river bank.

Riggin's statement, made in July, 1917, of Booth's movements
just before he shot him thus corroborates Mrs. Y'^ates' testimony
at William Branson's trial in February, 1916.

There is another point which seems to prove conclusively that
Riggin was at the scene of the murder. On July 19, 1917, Warden
Murphy, at Governor Withycombe's direction, took Riggin to
Willamina with the idea that Riggin would show by his descrip-
tion of the killing on the spot and by his location of the place
where the body w^as found whether or not he was telling the truth
in his confession. Riggin directed the party, of w^hich I was one,
to the spot where the shooting occurred. Warden Murphy had
never visited the scene of the crime and had to depend on Rig-
gin's directions. I will quote from his report to the Governor:

"I asked him if he was positive that this was the place. He
stated that he was, and I also asked him if he was positive where
Booth stood and he said he was. I then asked him what he did
when he shot him and he said he went down the creek where the
body lay and then came back up the creek, crossing in and w^ent

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Online LibraryGeorge A ThacherWhy some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed → online text (page 3 of 13)