Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 8

2014-08-15T00:00:00Z 2014-08-15T06:46:31Z Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 8Johanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 15, 2014 12:00 am  • 

William Estaver testified in his own defense at his trial. There were some differences from his testimony at the coroner's inquest.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Thursday, April 20, 1922:

 

Discrepancies Crop Out in Testimony of W. S. Estaver
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DEFENDANT SAYS WHEN TWO MEN FIRED ON JOHNSON CAR HE FELL OUT AND WAS ROBBED OF $500
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In the Main Estaver Adhered to Original Story
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Despite several discrepancies, which he explained in various ways, William S. Estaver, charged in the superior court with murder in the first degree, on the stand yesterday, in the main adhered to his original version of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, who was shot and killed at a lonely spot on the Ajo-Stoval road on the night of November 15, 1921.

Both in the direct and cross-examination, Estaver maintained that Mrs. Johnson was shot and killed by two men that fired into the car, and that, in returning the fire, he fell out of the machine and was robbed of about $500.

The discrepancies between his testimony given yesterday and the day before, and that which he gave at the coroner's inquest at Stoval, November 16, 1921, Estaver explained as arising from the fact that he had not eaten for two days and had walked 30 miles the night before; that at the inquest questions were asked so rapidly that he did not understand them perfectly, and that the transcript of the proceedings before the corner was faulty.

Estaver also assigned special reasons for varying in his testimony as to certain particular matters, and declared that there were certain questions of a personal nature that he had not wished to answer.

The defendant was on the stand all day yesterday, the usual crowd being in attendance. The direct examination of the defendant by John L. Van Buskirk, who, with K. Barry Peterson, is conducting the defense, was completed at about 11 o'clock in the morning.

County Attorney George R. Darnell then took up the cross-examination, which continued until adjournment. The county attorney said last night that his cross-examination of Estaver would probably be completed by noon today. Mr. Darnell is being assisted by Deputy County Attorney Ben B. Matthews. Judge Samuel L. Pattee is presiding.

With the announcement yesterday afternoon that the defense would not complete its case today, possibility that the trial would continue into next week loomed large. It is not believed that the rebuttal evidence, the judge's instructions and the arguments to the jury can be presented in two days.

Estaver admitted on cross-examination that Grace Gaynor, with whom he was traveling, was not his wife, but that they had registered as man and wife at the Hotel Rosslyn, Los Angeles, and at the New Cornelia hotel at Ajo. At the coroner's inquest in Stoval, the defendant had testified that he was traveling with his wife and that her name was Grace Gaynor, according to the transcript.

On the stand yesterday, Estaver said that his sole reason for wanting to return to Sentinel was to recover a black beaded bag belonging to Miss Gaynor, and that in the bag there was $600 of his money. The coroner's inquest transcript quoted him as saying that he wanted to get back to Sentinel to see whether a man to whom he owed $25 for towing him and actually received the money which the defendant said he had sent to him by a third person.

Estaver explained this discrepancy by saying that he did not wish anyone to know that he had lost money near Sentinel.

Asked by Mr. Darnell as to how the $600 had gotten into the woman's bag, Estaver replied that he placed it there as they were sitting in the desert, after their machine had broken down 18 miles from Sentinel. He said that he had been carrying the bills under the fold of his collar. When questioned by the county attorney as to where he had obtained the bills, Estaver testified that one of them he had gotten from a Detroit bank, the name or address of which he did not remember. Regarding the $100 bill the defendant's testimony was not specific.

On cross-examination Estaver testified that he had given a Chihuahua dog, which, from the testimony given previously, had been called "The Rat," to Grace Gaynor, and that she had sold it to Lila Lee the moving picture star. The dog was bought in Juarez Estaver said, and was sold to Miss Lee by Grace Gaynor because the latter could not take it with her on the train from Los Angeles to Jackson, Mich., where she had been summoned by the illness of "her boy, "the defendant testified.

Referring to his conversation at Rowood with Peter Johnson, husband of the dead woman, on their way to Sentinel, Estaver claimed that he did not say that his wife was waiting for him at Sentinel at the time.

Estaver testified that during the trip from Rosewood toward Stoval, Mrs. Johnson read the speedometer and was holding the watch.

Then without further preliminaries, County Attorney Darnell, snapped out:

"Now just tell the jury how the shooting occurred."

Instantly, Mr. VanBuskirk was on his feet with an objection to the form of the question. The objection was overruled.

"Mrs. Johnson had just been speaking about the harder road that we expected to find near the end of the road to Sentinel," Estaver began. "I answered that the road must have changed since I have been over it last, and that I didn't understand why the going was still so rough.

"Just then two shots were fired from the left side of the car. The man was either standing near the car or on the running board, but I think it was on the running board, because as he shot the car stopped and the man took a running step from the car that landed him three feet ahead of the car. Then he darted into the bushes. I took my gun from my hip pocket and fired two shots toward the spot. Mr. Johnson had fallen forward on the wheel. Suddenly there was one shot or perhaps two fired by a man on the right side, about 30 feet away, and a little ahead of the car. I fired in the direction from which the flash and the explosion had come. As I did so, the car started off again, I lost my balance, fell off the car and landed on my back and shoulders."

Asked by Mr. Darnell as to whether the gun that he took from his pocket was loaded at the time, Estaver replied that it was, saying that he had loaded it as the Johnsons and he will leaving Tucson.

The transcript of this part of his testimony at the coroner's inquest reads as follows:

". . . I reached for my gun in my hip pocket. When I left Tucson to start out on the desert, I had this gun. I always carry it in my traveling bag, and I had a package of cartridges there. The paper of the box broke, and they were wrapped up in my suit case in front of me. I opened the grip, took out three of them. I never carry my gun loaded. I got out my gun as quickly as I could, and as the car stopped and Mr. Johnson went down another shot came from the other side of the car."

Estaver testified that he did not have a good look at the man that was firing from the left side, but that he knew he was a heavy man. He said that when he fell, the man dragged him, pushed his face into the sand and took about $500 in bills from him as well as his watch.

The discrepancy in the testimony about Estaver's gun might be important, but one must wonder: how good would the memory be after a lack of food and a 30-mile walk?

The Morgue Lady also thinks Mr. Estaver must be quite enterprising. He had $500 on his person — this was taken by the alleged robbers — and another $600 that he claims he had placed in Miss Gaynor's bag. That was quite a bundle in 1921, and all of it lost.

Of course the prosecution would bring witnesses to cast doubt on Estaver's testimony.

From the Star, Friday, April 21, 1922:

 

Arguments in William S. Estaver Case Will Open Today
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TESTIMONY IS INTRODUCED TO IMPUGN ESTAVER'S STATEMENTS
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Case Likely to Go to Jury by Saturday Afternoon
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Testimony flatly contradicting certain statements made on the stand by the defendant was introduced by the state in rebuttal yesterday, at the trial of William S. Estaver, charged with murder in the first degree in connection with the death of Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, who was shot and killed on a lonely spot on the Ajo-Stoval road, November 15, 1921.

The defense rested its case-in-chief yesterday afternoon, and the state introduced the greater part of its rebuttal evidence. The defense may put on one or two surrebuttal witnesses this morning.

It is expected that the arguments to the jury will begin this afternoon. Deputy County Attorney Ben B. Mathews will open for the state. He will be followed by K. Berry Peterson and John L. Van Buskirk, in the order named, for the defense. County Attorney George Darnell will close for the state.

It is believed that the case will go to the jury tomorrow afternoon.

One of the features of yesterday's session, at which the usual large crowd was present, was the testimony of Judge Samuel L. Pattee, who is presiding over the trial. Judge Pattee was called to the stand by the state for the purpose of refuting the defendant's implication that County Attorney Darnell had opened two letters addressed by W. F. Timmons, Yuma attorney, to Estaver, according to the latter's claim. Judge Pattee testified that the letters in question had been addresses to him, and not to Estaver.

The rebuttal witnesses were examined by Deputy County Attorney Mathews, who is conducting the direct examination for the state, while County Attorney Darnell has handled the cross-examination.

Estaver on Stand

The first witness on the stand yesterday was Estaver, whose cross-examination by County Attorney Darnell had not been completed the day before. The county attorney completed his cross-examination at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and, after a few minutes of re-direct examination of Estaver by Mr. Van Buskirk, the latter announced that the defense rested.

Tony Tsiamas was called in rebuttal by the state in the effort to impeach Estaver's testimony on cross-examination, in which the defendant had said he did not ask Tsiamas to get mail for him under the name of "J. C. Burke," and send it to the county jail. Tsiamas testified that he was a cafe employe, that he had been in the county jail from January 13 to February 16, of this year, and that on leaving the jail he was asked by Estaver to go to the postoffice and get some mail for the defendant under the name of J. C. Burke; that he did so, got two letters and sent them to the county jail to Estaver. The two letters were shown to Tsiamas, who identified them as the ones he had sent and who also identified a notation on the back of one of the envelopes, "Billy, how are you getting along?" as having been written by him.

On cross-examination, Tsiamas said that he had been in the county jail on a federal charge.

Kelley Takes Stand

Joe B. Kelley, special officer for the Southern Pacific railroad, was called to the stand in an effort to impeach Estaver's testimony that a picture said to have been shown him by Officer Kelley was declared by Estaver not to be a photograph of the defendant's boy. Mr. Kelley testified that he showed the picture to Estaver and that the latter said that it was the photograph of his boy.

O. B. Anderson was recalled by the prosecution. He testified that Estaver told him that the handbag said to have been lost by the woman who accompanied Estaver on his trip westward from Tucson last October, was not of much value, but was a present from her mother. This conversation was held on the street in Los Angeles, after Anderson had driven Estaver's car through from Sentinel, where he had repaired it, the witness said.

Estaver had testified on the day previous that his sole reason for wanting to return to Sentinel from the coast was that he wished to recover a black beaded bag belonging to the woman, in which bag there was $600 belonging to him.

Probe for Accuracy

Miss Caroline Frauenfelder, stenographer and bookkeeper at Yuma, was on the stand for about two hours in the effort to establish that the notes and the transcript that she had made of the coroner's inquest at Yuma were accurate. At this inquest, according to the transcript, Estaver gave answers which varied from the testimony which he gave at the present trial.

County Attorney Darnell went over question after question, read the corresponding answers and then asked her if each question had been asked and answer made as reported. Miss Frauenfelder was asked by Mr. Van Buskirk, whether she was testifying from her memory of what was actually said at the inquest or from her memory as to what her notes contained. She replied that she was relying on both.

Mr. Van Buskirk then took the transcript and Miss Frauenfelder took the original notes, and as she rapidly read from them, counsel for both sides followed her reading, with the transcript before them.

Otis Spaulding, dispatcher for the Southern Pacific at Tucson, testified that he was on duty on November 13, 1921—the day that Estaver had said he arrived in Tucson; that he recorded the arrival of trains; that the Golden state Limited arrived on time, at 3:20 a.m.; that the same train stopped at Yuma, Gila Bend and Maricopa; that the first train to arrive in Tucson from Los Angeles after daylight is No. 110, which reaches Tucson at 9:50 a.m., and that this train stops at Sentinel.

On the stand, Estaver had said that he had bought a ticket to Tucson because the Golden State Limited did not stop at Sentinel; and, in explaining why he registered under the name of "J. C. Beck," he testified that he met Lawrence Fitzgerald immediately after stepping off the train which he said arrived after daylight, and that he used an assumed name in order to "shake" this acquaintance, who, he declared, had tried to get a loan from him.

The Morgue Lady feels for Miss Frauenfelder. Transcription isn't easy. It's easy to blame the transcriptionist when facts or testimony don't match — and surely there are lapses since no one is perfect — but few discrepancies are the fault of the stenographer or transcriptionist (often the same person).

Next: The case goes to the jury.

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About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com