this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was rigged to a gate at his home. While in office, Steunenberg took a tough stand against the Western Federation of Miners during a period of labor unrest. Former WFM member Albert Horsley (a/k/a Harry Orchard) was arrested for the crime. Legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland headed up the investigation. McParland pressured Horsley into implicating three high-ranking WFM officials as co-conspirators. Horsley was ultimately convicted of Steunenberg’s murder, but his testimony against the other men was discredited. Two of them were acquitted at trial, and charges were dropped against the third. Albert Horsley was sentenced to death by the court, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in prison in 1954 at the age of 87.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Frank Steunenberg

Wikipedia – Albert Horsley

Find a Grave – Frank Steunenberg

Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History

5 thoughts on “this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

  1. John D.:
    I would not have expected something like to take place in IDAHO…sounds more like something that could take place in Pennsy with the miners there.
    Makes me wonder if the court system in Idaho had some “:influence” from the WFM..?

    Good story.

    Roll safe out there.


  2. I remember Henry Fonda doing a one man show as Clarence Darrow (who was involved in the trial) and he made some unflattering remarks about Horsley/Orchard. I’m surprised he remained in prison so long, but perhaps the fact he killed an ex governor and the failure to convict the other men worked against him.


    • I don’t doubt that both of those played a factor in his sentence. It’s not just about punishment. There is also the belief that an example has to be set for others who entertain the notion of assassinating a pubic official (or former official).


  3. I read about this case in a book called Big Trouble, which I highly recommend. (It’s not the Dave Barry novel of the same name, which I also highly recommend.)
    Idaho at the time was having horrible labor problems between the mining companies and the miners (much like a generation earlier in PA), and that is supposedly what led to this bombing.
    This case was investigated in the usual 19th century manner, which we would not recognize today as a real investigation. It mainly consisted of finding someone to beat a story out of.
    Big Bill Haywood, the president of the Industrial Workers of the World, was, if I recall, charged and acquitted in this case. He was represented by Darrow.
    It’s a fascinating case, especially if you have an interest in the history of crime, the labor movement, or criminal investigation.


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