this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

Frank Steunenberg

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

this day in crime history: november 11, 1919

AmLeg

On this date 1919, four members of the American Legion were shot and killed during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia, WA. The men were shot by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

The incident started when members of a local Legion post passed in front of the Wobblies’ union hall in Centralia. Legion post commander Warren Grimm was shot in the chest by a Wobbly sniper. Legionnaire Arthur McElfresh was next, shot in head by a rifle from long distance. At that point, Legionnaires stormed the Wobbly building. Legionnaires Ben Cassagranda and Dale Hubbard were killed by armed Wobblies after they moved on the union hall. Five more Legionnaires were injured. A number of Wobblies inside the building were captured and turned over to law enforcement.

That night, a crowd stormed the local jail and took IWW member Wesley Everest from his cell. They brought him to the Chehalis River Bridge and lynched him. This, and other actions by vigilantes, led to the governor sending the National Guard to Centralia to quell the unrest.

There are two versions of how the shooting started. The Legionnaires claimed that they stormed the Wobbly hall after Grimm and McElfresh were shot in the street. The Wobblies claimed they did not open fire until after the Legionnaires stormed the hall. They had only armed themselves in self defense after multiple attacks on IWW members in the months leading up to the incident. But the first two men killed were shot at long range with rifles. The blood trails from both men indicated they were shot while standing in the street, over 100 feet from the Wobbly hall.

A trial was eventually held in Montesano, WA. Seven Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder. They received prison sentences of 25-40 years. Six of the men were paroled in 1931 and 1932. The seventh was paroled in 1939. No one was ever charged with the murder of Wesley Everest.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Centralia Massacre (Washington)

University of Washington – Essay: The Centralia Massacre

this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

this day in crime history: september 2, 1885

On this day in 1885, white miners working at the Union Pacific coal mine in Rock Springs, WY started a riot that resulted in the murder of over two dozen Chinese immigrants.

The trouble started at the beginning of the work day when ten white miners showed up on the work site and announced that Chinese miners were banned from a more productive part of the mine (workers were paid per ton of coal they mined, making certain work locations more desirable). The confrontation resulted in a fight in which two Chinese miners were beaten. One of the beaten men later died of his wounds.

The white miners walked off the job, resulting in a work stoppage. They went into town where they gathered at local bars, and at the Knights of Labor (a union that was trying to organize the white miners). After a few hours of drinking and fuming about the Chinese miners (who worked for less money than the white miners, and were blamed by the whites for low wages), a large group of white miners headed for Chinatown. Many of the miners were armed.

In the ensuing chaos, 28 Chinese miners were killed, 15 were wounded, and 79 homes were burned to the ground. Many of the homes were looted by white miners before they were burned. At the request of the territorial governor, the Army was called in to restore order.

Sixteen men were eventually arrested, but the grand jury refused to indict them. They returned to a hero’s welcome in Rock Springs. No one was ever successfully prosecuted for the crimes committed that day.

Further reading:

History Matters – “To This We Dissented”: The Rock Springs Riot

Wikipedia – Rock Springs Massacre

Wikipedia – List of victims of the Rock Springs massacre

this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

Frank Steunenberg

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

this day in crime history: november 11, 1919

AmLeg

On this date 1919, four members of the American Legion were shot and killed during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia, WA. The men were shot by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

The incident started when members of a local Legion post passed in front of the Wobblies’ union hall in Centralia. Legion post commander Warren Grimm was shot in the chest by a Wobbly sniper. Legionnaire Arthur McElfresh was next, shot in head by a rifle from long distance. At that point, Legionnaires stormed the Wobbly building. Legionnaires Ben Cassagranda and Dale Hubbard were killed by armed Wobblies after they moved on the union hall. Five more Legionnaires were injured. A number of Wobblies inside the building were captured and turned over to law enforcement.

That night, a crowd stormed the local jail and took IWW member Wesley Everest from his cell. They brought him to the Chehalis River Bridge and lynched him. This, and other actions by vigilantes, led to the governor sending the National Guard to Centralia to quell the unrest.

There are two versions of how the shooting started. The Legionnaires claimed that they stormed the Wobbly hall after Grimm and McElfresh were shot in the street. The Wobblies claimed they did not open fire until after the Legionnaires stormed the hall. They had only armed themselves in self defense after multiple attacks on IWW members in the months leading up to the incident. But the first two men killed were shot at long range with rifles. The blood trails from both men indicated they were shot while standing in the street, over 100 feet from the Wobbly hall.

A trial was eventually held in Montesano, WA. Seven Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder. They received prison sentences of 25-40 years. Six of the men were paroled in 1931 and 1932. The seventh was paroled in 1939. No one was ever charged with the murder of Wesley Everest.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Centralia Massacre (Washington)

University of Washington – Essay: The Centralia Massacre

this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns