George A Thacher.

Why some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed online

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along back of the rOck quarry and then he made his way to Wil-
lamina where his horse w^as tied. I then asked him to show where
the body lay and to describe how it lay. He said that it lay by
the fence that ran down to the river with one hand in the water,
and the head down stream. At this point I asked the guard to
take Riggin away that I might talk freely with the parties as I
did not know whether he had stated the location correctly or not.
After Riggin was out of hearing, I inquired of the parties, espe-
cially Mr. Sherwin, who w^as as I said before a member of the
coroner's jury, I believe being the foreman, and who had viewed
the body in an official capacity and he said Riggin had stated
the condition correctly. At this point Mr. Conner stated that



30 Why Some Men Kill

Riggin had erred in saying that the body was on the down stream
side. In order to be exactly fair about this very important point
I requested the party to step back from the scene 25 or 30 paces
and had Riggin brought up and asked Mr. Sherwin to take Riggin
to the water's edge and have him show him exactly how the body
lay and where. This he did and Riggin told him that the body
lay on the upper side of the fence and the head down stream, the
hand in the water. I then asked Mr. Sherwin if it was the exact
position in which he had viewed the body in the first instance
and he said it was."

This checks up Riggin's confession to the time after the mur-
der when a man dressed as Riggin said he was went down the
creek after the shooting and was seen by two witnesses who tes-
tified at Branson's trial.

Riggin said he returned the horse to McMinnville and "I
walked back to Walker Flat and stayed 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."

The murder occurred on the 8th of October, 1915. Riggin
says he stopped three days at Walkers Flat which would bring
it to the 11th or 12th. I saw Mrs. Annie Springer, a half-sister of
Riggin's, who was living in Moores Valley at that time, on the
route Riggin said he took to Tillamook. Her sworn statement
follows :

"I, Annie Springer, being sworn depose and say that William
Riggin is my half-brother. During the month of October, 1915, I
was living with my husband, Albert Springer, on the Sunnybrook
farm in Moore's Valley, about eight miles west of the town of
Yamhill. Will Riggin came to our place on the morning of Oc-
tober 12th, 1915. He seemed awful nervous about something.
I asked him to come into the house, but he said he was in a hurry
and, as a matter of fact, he only remained in the yard some fif-
teen minutes.

"I urged him to come in and he said, 'The sheriff is after me.
I asked him what he had done and he said in his short way, '
ain't done nothing.'

"The reason that I can tell the day of October in 1915 whe
Bill came to our place is that we were getting ready to come to
Moose Lodge banquet in McMinnville, which was held that day
and because the day before, October 11th, is my birthday."

(Signed) Mrs. Annie Springer



y



The Booth Murder 31

In Riggin's verbal statement to me he said that he also
stopped at F. L. Smith's, a neighbor of Mrs. Annie Springer's. John
Riggin, a half-brother, lived at F. L. Smith's and he has made a
sworn statement saying that when he came home, the Smith fam-
ily told him that Rill Riggin had stopped there and said he was
going to Tillamook. Mrs. Annie Springer had also told him that
Rill Riggin was at her home on October 12.

Rill Riggin's father made an investigation of Rill's move-
ments at the time of the murder and his conclusions agree with
this account. The Riggin family were unwilling to believe that
Rill committed this murder but the facts which they personally
knew in connection with Rill's confession finally convinced them
that Rill was telling the truth. Riggin's father says that Rill ought
to be permanently confined so that he won't do any more harm.



Chapter IV.

WILLIAM RIGGIN SHOWS WARDEN MURPHY WHERE HE "
CONCEALED THE REVOLVER

William Riggin, in his confession describing how he killed
Booth, told what he did with the revolver. He said he took it
with him on his trip to Tillamook a few days after the murder
and hid it on Pinkey Stillwell's place, some 15 miles east of Tilla-
mook. Inasmuch as Riggin was arrested soon after his arrival at
Tillamook and has been confined in jail ever since, he has had no
opportunity to "plant" the revolver since his trip to Tillamook.
We know from the independent testimony of various witnesses
that Riggin made this trip to Tillamook almost immediately after
Booth was killed, and the revolver plainly shows that it was ex-
posed to the weather for a long period. It's a .38 caliber revolver
and Booth was killed by a .38 caliber bullet. I

On May 22, 1917, Warden Murphy took Riggin to Tillamook
at Governor Withycombe's direction and out to the place where
Riggin said he hid the revolver. Warden Murphy says that Rig-
gin "unhesitatingly kicked aside the leaves and released a .38
Smith and Wesson revolver with which he claimed he commit-
ted the deed." This revolver is now in the possession of the
warden.

In August of 1917 I was in Tillamook and became acquainted,,
with Malcolm Easton, whose sworn statement follows: |

"I, Malcolm Easton, being sworn depose and say that I am a
resident of Tillamook, Oregon, and that I have lived there for
the past seven years, and that at the present time I am night clerk,
in the Tillamook Hotel. In the fall of 1915 I was at work in ai
railroad camp at Tillamook and had been in the town of Tilla-
mook for a number of days spending my money in the saloons.
Norman Myers, marshal in Tillamook, asked me one evening,
when I had spent all my money and was f eehng disgusted with
myself, where I was going to sleep that night, and offered me a
bed in the county jail, which I accepted. Myers put me in a cell
with a man by the name of William Riggin who had been ar- ■
rested for steahng a gun. Riggin was a good deal excited and ,,
talked to me all night especially about guns of different kindsrj
and about criminal things he had done and of crimes he knew ,,
about. Among other things Riggin told me that he had shot at a ,
farmer as he came across a field before he came to Tillamool-



The Booth Murder 33

and that he had hidden a gun on Pinkey Stillwell's place, east of
Tillaniook, as he came across the mountains.

"Riggin did not tell me that he killed this man, and I did not
think of the matter in connection with the murder of William
Booth at Willamina until this summer when Riggin was brought
to Tillamook by Warden Murphy. Clark Hadley told me that
Riggin found the revolver on Pinkey Stillwell's place that he said
he had hidden there after he used it to kill Booth. Then I remem-
bered the stoiy Riggin told me in the county jail of his shooting
at a farmer as he crossed a field and of hiding a gun on Pinkey
Stilhveirs place as he came across the mountains. I asked Con-
stable Epplett to speak to Warden Murphy about my knowledge
of Riggin's story. I talked to Clark Hadle}^ about my experience
with Riggin and also to Norman Myers. Later I mentioned it to
Mr. Gregory, who, I understand, was on the Oregonian staff, and
asked his advice about informing the warden of the penitentiary
or the Governor.

"I felt that I ought to inform the authorities of my knowledge
of the matter, and, in fact, I had written a letter to Warden
Murphy when I read in the Oregonian Mr. Murphy's report of how
Riggin showed where Booth's body lay after he shot him.

"I spoke to Mr. Myers about it and he said it would not be
necessar\' for me to send the letter for nobody could have any
doubt of the truth of Riggin's confession after reading the report
of Warden Murphy's investigation.

"1 realize that the truth of my statement of what Riggin told
me in the county jail at Tillamook about his shooting at a farmer
as he crossed a field and of his hiding a gun on Pinkey Stillwell's
place afterwards as he came across the mountains will be re-
garded as depending upon my reputation, and that my irregu-
larities in the way of drinking may be held to damage my credi-
bility, but I have lived in Tillamook for a number of years and
quite a number of people know me, and I am willing to leave
the question of my honesty and truthfulness with them.

"I was not intoxicated the night I spent in jail with Riggin in

Ithc fall of 1915, but I had been drinking and had spent all my
money and was disgusted with myself and accepted Marshal
. Myers offer of a bed in the jail. I told Myers in the morning
ef what kind of a chap he had put me in with, but as I was not
anxious to be mixed up with a fellow who told stories of law
breaking that Riggin told, I put the matter out of my mind until



34 Why Some Men Kill

Riggin was brought to Tillamook by Warden Murphy and found
the revolver that he said he had hidden."

(Signed) Malcolm Easton.

Malcolm Easton is evidently sincere in his desire to tell of
Bill Riggin's statement to him in October of 1915 and gave me
the names of a number of citizens of Tillamook who would
vouch for his honesty.

I made inquiries in Tillamook about Mr. Easton and the re-
sponses from several men of good standing in the community
satisfied me that Mr. Easton is thoroughly reliable and that he
has given the information concerning Riggin because he believes
it is a duty which he owes the public.

WHO KILLED WILLIAM BOOTH.'*

The solving of a murder mystery where the only evidence
consists of inferences from known or proven facts, and where
there is no direct evidence, is very much like solving a Chinese
puzzle consisting of many pieces of irregular shapes. When all
the pieces are in their proper places, all the pieces are used and
the puzzle is complete and perfect in form. Sometimes the puz-
zle is apparently solved without using all the pieces, but there
are no superfluous parts in a puzzle; they all must be used.

So in solving the Booth murder it is absurd to say that there
were superfluous facts at Branson's trial which meant nothing.
And yet it is beyond dispute that the jury which convicted Bran-
son did not consider all the facts in the case.

To be blunt the jury assumed that Branson and Mrs. Booth
were together near the Yates place and that Branson and his
witnesses were lying. They were so sure Branson was lying that
they convicted him of murder though to do that they had to
assume a motive of criminal intimacy between Branson and
Mrs. Booth, which the judge instructed them was not proven.

There was evidence given at the trial to show that the day
after the murder a woman's hair "rat" was picked up in the
brush 60 to 80 feet from where Booth was killed, and certain
witnesses who were admittedly not experts, told the jury that
this "rat" was similar to hair rats owned by Mrs. Booth. Mrs.
Booth's sister testified that Mrs. Booth's "rats" contained human
hair and that the "rat" found in the brush did not. This ques-
tion was thus left very much in the air and the jury drew their
conclusions from the testimony of witnesses who did not qualify
as experts. The vagueness of the inference to be drawn even if



The Booth Murder 35

the "rat" found in the brush was actually similar to Mrs. Booth's
rats is evident. It was not compolent to prove that Mrs. Booth
was near the scene of the murder at the time it was committed,
and no attempt was made to prove that the spot where the rai
was found was a rendezvous for Mrs. Booth and William Bran-
son, About all that could be said for it was that it tended to
give color to suspicion against Mrs. Booth.

The jury was willing to go counter to the courts instructions
that there was no proof of adulterous relations between Mrs,
Booth and William Branson, and imagine the motive because
they were so certain that Branson was Ij'ing about not being with
Mrs. Booth in the neighborhood of Mrs. Yates' place that day.

This comi)elled the members of the jury to overlook or forget
as superfluous certain facts which certainly were part of the
mystery of the murder.

The first of these facts was that when Booth's body was dis-
covered there were footprints found beside the body in the soft
soil in the edge of the river. These footprints were made by
shoes with hob-nails. The law^-^ers for the defendant say that
undisputed testimony was given to this fact at Branson's third
trial by a witness for the prosecution. Apparently it was given
incidentally, but at any rate it was not given at either of the
previous trials. The reason that this is an important fact in
solving the puzle as to w^ho killed William Booth is the signifi-
cant circumstance that William Branson wore button shoes with
smooth soles on the day of the murder. That is to say some other
man than William Branson stood beside Booth's dead body.

And yet because the jury believed that Branson lied they were
willing to leave out this important evidence. They were willing
to admit in effect that some other man who had hob-nailed shoes
must have stopped by the spot where Booth's body lay in order
to find Branson guilt^^ of murder.

Another piece of the puzzle which the jury left out of consid-
eration was the testimony of Harold Lewis and Clarence Carter
at Branson's trial, Lewis and Carter were at work with their
teams on disc plows in a field down the river from the scene of
the murder on that afternoon. Lewis testified that they heard
a shot at about 1 :30 P, M. and that shortly after he "saw a maD
walking pretty fast down the creek in the brush, right in the
edge of the creek." This man was 250 or 300 yards from Lewis.
Lewis stopped his horses and watched him. This man then



36 Why Some Men Kill

ducked down in the hollow and Lewis could only see him from
the waist up and he soon disappeared.

Question — "How was he dressed?"

Answer — "He had on either a black or dark blue jersej
sweater and a black hat."

Lewis could not see his face. Clarence Carter's testimony
was identical with that of Lewis.

Here was a man hurrying away from what later proved
to be the scene of a murder, and who was apparently anxious to
get out of sight when a couple of men stopped their teams to
watch him. This man obviously could not have been Branson
because Branson, according to all the witnesses wore a red
sweater on the day of the murder, and the witnesses who said
they saw him down the river from the spot where Booth was
killed testified that he was riding a bicycle and was riding on the
road without attempt at concealment.

Certainly this man hurrying down the creek in the brush
immediately after the shooting was quite as important a piece of
the puzzle as Branson on his wheel on the road. However the
• jury left him out of their considerations.

There is no question but what the jury ignored these two ele-
ments of the mystery of the murder, and guessed that Branson
was intimate with Mrs. Booth and guessed that Mr. Booth caught
them in the brush in a compromising situation and guessed that
then Branson killed Booth.

WILLIAM RIGGIN's CONFESSION

It is a crucial test of William Biggin's confession to see if all
of the circumstances "fit in" and make a solution of the murder
which is complete.

Biggin says he hired a spotted pony with a roached mane and
rode to Willamina from McMinnville. Mr. White says he rented
such a pony to Biggin in McMinnville at the time Booth was
killed. Mrs. Lottie Smith, Biggin's sister, says she saw Biggin in
Willamina and described the pony he rode.

Biggin says, in a statement to the District Attorney, that he
was at Mrs. Yates' place when Booth was in her garden and he
described Booth's going to the road from the garden and thence
back to the brush at the bank of the river where his body was
afterwards found.

At Wilham Branson's trial Mrs. Yates described Mr. Booth's
movements in her garden and his going to the road and then into
the brush on the river bank where his dead body was found two



The Booth Murder 37

hours later. The two descriptions of Booth's actions just before
he was killed agree.

Riggin told of leaving the spot thus: "I lit out to the left and
went down through the brush. I walked to a vacant shed near
Willamina."

Riggin has said that he wore a blue sweater, corked shoes and
a black hat.

Lewis and Carter testified that this man, hurrying down
through the brush, wore a black or blue sweater and a black hat.

Thus it appears that the testimony of Mrs. Yates, also the wit-
ness who said there were footprints made by hob-nailed shoes by
Booth's body, and the testimony of Lewis and Carter, all agree
with the facts and with William Riggin's confession describing
how he killed Booth.

Curiously enough Riggin says, in his confession, that he saw
Mrs. Booth and Branson talking together near Mrs. Yates' place.
This seems to fit with the testimony of the prosecution that Bran-
son followed Mrs. Booth and was but a few minutes behind her
on the road when she crossed the bridge three-eighths of a mile
below Mrs. Yates' place.

Booth was killed on October 8, 1915, and on July 19, 1917,
Warden Murphy took Riggin to Willamina to have him point out
the spot where Booth was killed and show where and how his
body lay.

The foreman of the coroner's jury that viewed Booth's body
where it was found and later held an inquest was present. The
warden asked Riggin to show this foreman of the coroner's jury
exactly where Booth's body lay and its position. Riggin did this
and the foreman of the coroner's jury said that Riggin showed
him the exact position in which Booth's body lay as he, the fore-
man, had seen it when Booth was killed.

Riggin says, after taking the pony back to McMinnville, that
he went to Walker Flat and stayed with a man there three days
and that he then went on to Tillamook.

Mrs. Annie Springer, Riggin's half-sister, who was very loath
to believe that her brother had killed Booth, says that William
Riggin came to her home in Moores Valley on October 12, 1915,
but was very nervous and would not stop. On being urged to,
he said, "The sheriff is after me."

The murder occurred October 8. Allowing one day for Riggin
to take the pony to McMinnville and to go to Walker Flat, where
he says he remained three days, it would be the 12th when he



38 Why Some Men Kill

started for Tillamook, which would take him through Moores
Valley where his sister, Mrs. Springer, lived. This fits. Why
Riggin should say to his sister, when urged to stop, "The sheriff
is after me," unless he had some fear that he might be after him,
is inconceivable.

It seems that when Riggin was crossing the summit of the
Coast Range, on the Tillamook trail, that he met four young men
who had been fishing in the mountain streams and that he
camped with them in a deserted cabin. They said that Riggin
acted so strangely and insisted on sleeping with his weapons that
two of the four kept watch the first half of the night and that the
other two did guard duty the second half of the night. There is
no doubt that Riggin frightened them thoroughly. They were too
much scared to realize that Riggin was possibly afraid of some-
body following him and getting the drop on him.

Riggin, in his confession, said that he "ditched the revolver"
with which he killed Rooth on the Pinkey Stillwell place. On
May 22, 1917, Warden Murphy, at the direction of Governor
Withycombe, took Riggin to Tillamook and they went from there
up the Trask River and on arriving at the spot the warden says
Riggin "unhesitatingly kicked aside the leaves and released a
.38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver with which he claimed he
committed the deed."

While Riggin was in jail in Tillamook he told Malcolm
Eastori, as previously related, about shooting at a man east of
the mountains and of hiding the gun on Pinkey Stillwell's place.
The finding of the revolver, Easton's testimony about Riggin's
story to him soon after the murder of Booth, and Riggin's con-
fession of the murder and of where he hid the revolver, made in
the spring of 1917, thus fit together as component parts of the
puzzle.

Here are two possible solutions to the mystery of who killed
William Booth. The solution which points to the guilt of Wil-
liam Branson and Mrs. Booth ignores absolutely two important
facts brought out at Branson's trial, and imagines a motive for
the killing, which the judge cautioned the jury against, and bases
inference on inference to reach a conclusion. Branson had al-
ways borne a good reputation and is spoken of highly by all
his acquaintances and friends.

The other solution, which points to William Riggin as the
murderer, accounts for all the facts testified to by the various
witnesses, and Riggin's confession is corroborated in many par-



The Booth Murder 39

ticulars as I have just pointed out. A year and a half after his
confession he still says that he killed Booth. If it is admitted
that the correct solution of a criminal mystery must account for
and explain all the facts brought out, and must form a complete
whole, like the parts of an intricate puzzle, then the solution of
the mystery of the killing of William Booth is that William Rig-
gin killed him as he has confessed that he did.



Chapter V.

APPEAL TO THE PUBLIC FOR THE RELEASE OF WILLIAM
BRANSON AND MRS. BOOTH

The various trials of William Branson and Mrs. Anna Booth
for the murder of William Booth received the widest publicity.
Public sentiment was very deeply aroused, chiefly because the
murder was apparently unprovoked and because there was no
direct testimony connecting Branson and Mrs. Booth with the
crime. It was all circumstantial evidence, which is to say people
could only come to a conclusion as to who committed the murder
by drawing inferences from the known facts. The known facts
were that on October 8 Mrs. Booth started to visit her mother and
left her home a little before half past twelve P. M., going north
from Willamina. A little time after Mr. Booth started west from
Willamina and reached a point about one hour later on the road
Mrs. Booth followed to visit her mother. He was seen near this
point by several people, and at 1 : 30 P. M. a shot was heard, which
presumably killed him. William Branson was seen, according
to a number of witnesses, three-eighths of a mile from the scene
of the murder going in the same direction that Mrs. Booth had
gone. This was about half an hour before the shot was fired.
Other witnesses testified that William Branson was in Willamina
at the time the murder was committed.

The only circumstance which was established as certain was
that William Booth was seen close to the point of the shooting
just before the shot. Mrs. Booth was seen about half an hour
later on the road some 10 rods or more from the scene of the
murder, according to the testimony at the inquest. At the trial
the same witness said she saw Mrs. Booth ten minutes after the
shot was heard.

The jury drew the inference that Mrs. Booth and young Bran-
son were together in the brush at the point where Booth was
killed. From that inference they draw the second inference that
Mrs. Booth, and young Branson, who was 23 years old (Mrs.
Booth was 32) were found in a compromising situation by Mr.
Booth, and from that inference they drew the third inference
that upon being discovered in a compromising situation that
young Branson promptly shot William Booth and killed him. If
it had been estabhshed as a fact that Branson and Mrs. Booth
were guilty of adulterous relations there would have been a



The Booth Murder 41

motive and these two inferences based upon another inference
would have had a semblance of probability, but the court spe-
cifically instructed the jury that there was no evidence establish-
ing adulterous relations between the two defendants. However,
even on that supposition, which the jury accepted in opposition
to the judge's charge, it is worth while to remember that while an
injured husband has often killed his wife's seducer at the
moment of discovery, as many a court trial will witness, and as
many a verdict of acquittal on the ground of "the higher law"
will confirm, there is no record that I ever saw or heard of where
the seducer killed the husband on the instant of the husband dis-
covering him in a compromising situation with his wife. It is
true that the seducer has often killed the husband, with or with-
out the aid of the wife, but not at the instant of discovery by the
husband of the criminal relation.

It is proper to consider this because as part of the assumed


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Online LibraryGeorge A ThacherWhy some men kill; or, Murder mysteries revealed → online text (page 4 of 13)