Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 7

2014-08-14T00:00:00Z Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 7Johanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 14, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Love letters to Estaver, written by a woman who identified herself as "Fairy" were entered into evidence. The state continued its case. 

From the Arizona Daily Star, Sunday, April 16, 1922:

 

Love Letters to Estaver Are Introduced at Murder Trial

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TENDER MISSIVES FROM 'FAIRY' ADDRESSED TO DEFENDANT WHEN HE WAS VISITING COAST CITIES

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More Witnesses for State Are on Stand Saturday

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Love letters addressed to the defendant by a writer signing the name "Fairy" were the features of the evidence introduced yesterday at the trial of William S. Estaver, Detroit dentist, on trial in the superior court on a charge of first degree murder, in connection with the death of Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, who was shot on the Ajo-Stoval road on the night of November 15, 1921.

In one letter, "Fairy" says that "it won't be long before I can have my divorce, and then – what do you want to happen?" In another portion of the same letter, the writer expressed doubt as to whether the recipient of the letter has found "another bobbed hair blonde."

"Washed my hair this morning, and thought of you while doing it; it wasn't a nice shampoo like you gave me," Fairy wrote in still another letter.

The missives were all addressed to "Dr. William S. Estaver" either at San Francisco or at Los Angeles, presumably a few days after the writer had left the coast last fall.

Read to Jury

The letters were read to jury by County Attorney George R. Darnell at the close of yesterday's session. Immediately afterward, a number of photographs, said to have been found among the defendant's effects when he was arrested on the morning after the shooting, were passed around to the jury for inspection. Some of the pictures showed the defendant and a woman in an automobile. Other photographs handed to the jury as being the defendant's were of ladies in distinct deshabille.

County Attorney George R. Darnell said yesterday that the state would close its case early tomorrow morning. It is believed that the trial will last until the latter part of the week.

Mr. Darnell is being assisted in the prosecution by Deputy County Attorney Ben B. Mathews. John L. Van Buskirk and K. Berry Peterson are defending Estaver.

The letters were postmarked Jackson, Mich., and were dated the early part of November, a few days before the killing. One of them, dated November 5, and written on stationery of the Hotel Rosalyn, Los Angeles, but postmarked Jackson, Mich., read, in part, as follows:

"Why did you do it? I'm afraid I shouldn't have left you . . .

"I could be ready to come within a week—if you want me to, dear. Do you—or have you another bobbed hair blonde? . . .

"Mary and Bud went to a charity ball last night, and mother and I went down and looked on. Oh, Billy, your Fairy had fits. The very same music we danced to every night in Juarez. And no Billy. I wanted to dance but didn't, 'cause you weren't there. I promised to tell you who (sic) I kissed. Took a taxi up to the house and was met by my brother—Bud, sister's fiance. He kissed me and I kissed he(sic), daddy and grand-daddy. that's all, dear—really. It won't be long now before I can have my divorce, and then? What do you want to happen? . . .

"Billy, dear, get a hold on yourself, and be a good boy for me. Don't raise the devil, dear; you must not look dissipated when I return.

"Billy, you DO want me to come back, don't you . . .

"Lots of love and kissing dear,

"Fairy."

One letter was written on the California Limited train of the Santa Fe railway, and was dated November 2. Referring to certain "celebrities" that were on the same train, "Fairy" wrote:

"Dear, that fat man you saw yesterday was Allen McQuay, the singer, and the woman is Helen Jackson, the writer. And Mr. Southern (sic) (E. H. Sothern?), the actor, is also on the train—quite a crowd of celebrities. Allen McQuay and his pianist invited Helen Jackson and I (sic) to the Grand Canyon with them, and then go to Colorado Springs, but I declined. I couldn't see it, even if he does make $1000 a performance.

"Today Mr. Southern has treated us to lemonade, and entertained us royally. Helen and I breakfasted and lunched together . . .

"Lovingly, Fairy."

Another letter was dated Jackson, Mich., November 6, 1921, and was in part as follows:

"Washed my hair this morning, and thought of you while doing it. It wasn't a nice shampoo, like you gave me. O, Billy, when am I coming home to you? Mama is ready to come any time, and I am more than ready. It won't take long to get Sonny. Then I just have to settle a few business affairs, and then—the devil himself couldn't hold me."

Garage Man Testifies

The first witness put on the stand yesterday was O. B. Anderson, who is engaged in the garage business at Rowood, near Ajo. He testified that on October 22 he got a call to go out to a point between Ajo and Sentinel to get a man with a broken down car, but that when he reached the spot the man had already been towed in. When he returned to Sentinel, he found Estaver and a woman who he said was his wife, already there, the witness said. Estaver and the woman left town on the night of October 23, going west to Los Angeles, Anderson said, adding that Estaver left instructions that Anderson was to drive the car through to Los Angeles when it was repaired, and collect his bill as well as that of G. R. McGaw, who had towed the man and woman into Sentinel. These instructions were followed, and Estaver paid him $130 in Los Angeles in settlement of both bills, Mr. Anderson testified, adding that Estaver sold his car to a dealer on November 2.

James Sleeths, signal maintainer for the Southern Pacific, testified that he met Estaver on the railroad tracks one mile east of Stoval at 10- o'clock on the morning of November 16, that Estaver inquired where he could get water, and that he was informed Stoval was only a mile away, the witness explaining on the stand that the town was visible from where the conversation was being held. Estaver then asked what was the nearest point east where water was available, and was told that there was a section gang nine miles east, according to the witness. Estaver then turned away from Stoval and began walking toward the section gang, Sleeths said, adding that before leaving Estaver said he had been riding with a man and a woman and that they had been held up.

Ellis Malone, formerly justice of the peace at Rowood, testified that on November 15, at about 4 p.m., Johnson and a woman and Estaver drove up in a Dodge car and bought cold drinks, "except," the witness added, "they were not cold, but hot," while a ripple of amusement spread over the courtroom. Johnson paid for the refreshments, and the party drove eastward in the direction of Yuma, the witness said.

George E. C. Johnson testified that he was the son of Peter Johnson, and that the woman who was killed was his stepmother. He said that her body was pointed out to him in the Johnson Undertaking company's parlors at Yuma on or about November 22, and that he identified it as the body of his stepmother. He saw the remains again in Olinger's undertaking parlors at Denver. Mr. Johnson testified that he drove the car through from Yuma to Tucson, in the same condition as he found it and its contents, except, he added, on cross-examination by Mr. Van Buskirk, that he took from the suitcase some articles of clean clothing for his father, who was in the hospital at Yuma, and except for two small pieces of windshield glass which he found on the left running board of the machine.

On cross-examination, Mr. Johnson said that the car he was driving was equipped with stronger lights than the usual stock car of the Dodge make, adding that he himself had made the change before leaving Denver.

J. N. McCain, a barber of Tucson, testified that on or about November 12, Estaver came into his shop at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and called for a haircut and shave. Estaver began the conversation as follows, according to the witness:

Told of Long Walk

"Well, I'm some walker."

"How's that?"

"I walked in from Ajo today. I got a car broken down west of Ajo, and I walked into Ajo for parts, and not finding any there, I walked on to Tucson."

The witness said he had identified Estaver while the latter was in the county jail.

Deputy Sheriff J. Lew Tremaine, of Pima county, testified that the car was turned over to Sheriff Ben F. Daniels by George O. Johnson and Deputy Sheriff Elias of Yuma, and that the car was then entrusted into the witness's care by the sheriff. Mr. Tremaine declared that he had locked the car up and that it was in the same condition as when he had received it.

Mrs. Eliza M. Cronk, of Denver, testified that she and her husband. Walter F. Cronk, were in Stoval on November 15 and 16 of last year, en route to El Paso in their car, and that on the morning of November 16, Peter Johnson drove up with the dead body of his wife on the seat beside him. Johnson himself was wounded, she said, adding that efforts to get telephone connection with Yuma for help were unsuccessful. A passenger train was flagged, and Signal Maintainer Jack Sleeths and Special Officer P. S. Sullivan, of the Southern Pacific, stepped off, the witness said. The two men went down the track and in about 15 minutes returned with the defendant, the witness declared.

Denied Shooting

Mrs. Cronk testified that the first words she heard exchanged between Johnson and Estaver were spoken by the latter, who said:

"I didn't shoot you last night. Didn't you see two men jump on the running board and shoot you?"

Johnson replied in the negative, the witness said. According to her testimony, Johnson was put aboard the 12:30 train and sent to the hospital at Yuma.

On cross examination by Mr. Van Buskirk, Mrs. Cronk asserted that Johnson said when he first drove up that he had been carrying a man in the back seat, and that the man had shot him while they were riding through the desert. Mr. Van Buskirk then read what purported to be a transcript of Mrs. Cronk's testimony before the coroner at Yuma, in which she was reported as saying that Johnson had stated he had picked up a man in his car, that he had become unconscious and that when he recovered the man was gone. Mrs. Cronk yesterday expressed herself as being positive that Johnson's first words were that he had been shot by the man who was riding with them, and added that she did not remember whether she so testified before the coroner.

At this juncture, County Attorney Darnell announced that the state offered the Dodge car which Johnson was driving at the time of the shooting. The jury did not view the car until after the court session was over, late in the afternoon, when, in the custody of Bailiffs Joe Billings and G. E. Tuttle, the "twelve good men and true" inspected the car at the residence of Deputy J. Lew Tremaine, 245 North Main street. The examination consumed about half an hour.

John G. Bostick, proprietor of a local auto stage line, testified that on November 14 last, Bruce Crouse introduced Estaver to him, and that Estaver wanted to hire an automobile to take him out about 20 miles on the other side of Ajo. The witness said that he told Estaver it would cost him $75, that Estaver replied he would try to catch a ride, and that the next morning the witness saw the defendant in front of the Willard hotel, standing by an automobile.

F. F. DeMorse, assistant county engineer of Pima county, testified to the finding of two shells and a bullet at a spot west of Ajo, which had been marked by means of rags tied on bushes.

O. F. Hicks, special agent for Pima county, testified that a Mauser discharges its empty shells to the right and to the back.

Joe B. Kelley, special officer of the Southern Pacific railroad, testified that in November, 1921, two trains from Tucson stopped at Sentinel—No. 109, which leaves Tucson at 3:30 a.m., and No. 1, which leave this city at 5:25 p.m. and reaches Sentinel at 10:30 p.m. The latter stop is a flag stop, the special agent said.

As the next week of testimony began, the state rested its case and the defense began.

 

Defense Attacks Claim of State as to Spot of Crime

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STATE RESTS IN THE TRIAL OF W. S. ESTAVER

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Defense Opens Presentation of Testimony

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At what point on the lonely Ajo-Stoval road was Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, of Denver, shot on the night of November 15, 1921?

Serious efforts to throw doubt on the location of the shooting were made by the defense yesterday at the trial of William S. Estaver, Detroit dentist, charged with first degree murder in connection with Mrs. Johnson's death. Estaver is being tried in the superior court, Judge Samuel L. Pattee presiding.

W. F. Timmons, Yuma attorney, who represented Estaver at the preliminary examination before Justice of the Peace Oscar L. Pease last December, took the stand yesterday and [unreadable word] the scene of the shooting as being about a mile from the spot that the prosecution contends was the "locus in quo."

The state closed its case-in-chief early yesterday morning, and the defense immediately proceeded with the presentation of its testimony. The indications last night were that Arizona's "celebrated case" would not be finished until well toward the later part of the week.

As usual, more persons sought admittance into the courtroom than could be comfortably accommodated, and once more Bailiff John Gardiner had to "sit guard" outside the court in order to keep out the surplus would-be spectators.

County Attorney George R. Darnell and Deputy County Attorney Ben B. Mathews are conducting the case for the state, and John L. Van Buskirk and K. Berry Peterson represent Estaver.

Mr. Timmons said that on November 20 he went out to the spot where the shooting is alleged, by the defense, to have occurred, and, assisted by W. G. Keyser and Peter Russ, to have carefully surveyed and mapped the scene, remaining there all day and part of the following morning.

The witness said that the party found one .45 empty shell, two 30-30 empties and four .32 special empties. At first Mr. Timmons said that the empties were .38s, but later corrected his testimony.

The Yuma attorney said that he and his two companions found 10 to 12 cents on the ground, and that they saw tracks of a large cowboy boot and of Estaver's rubber heels, mingled in such a manner as to suggest a scuffle. There were also tracks of a smaller cowboy boot some distance away, to the right of the road, the witness said, adding that the alleged "scuffle ground" covered an area 5 by 10 or 12 feet.

On cross-examination, Mr. Timmons drew a plat of the scene, in which he showed Estaver as walking from a mile toward Ajo, and then turning around and walking or running back toward Stoval. In this respect, Mr. Timmons' testimony differed from that of all the state's witnesses that had testified as to the movements of Estaver after the shooting, the prosecution's evidence being that Estaver's footprints ended at a point 29.9 miles from Stoval, where they were found by the party that visited the scene on November 18. 

The witness produced a map that he said had been prepared by him or Keyser. When asked by counsel for the state whether some writing that appeared on the map had been done by him or by Keyser, Mr. Timmons said he did not know. When pressed as to whether he knew his own writing or not, Mr. Timmons replied that he did not write the same under all circumstances.

Mr. Timmons said, on cross-examination that at the time that he visited the alleged "scuffle ground" he expected to be engaged as an attorney in the case and that he expected that the two men with him would be witnesses. Mr. Timmons also testified that he telephoned from Mohawk to Attorney Kelly at Yuma to send a car out with some witnesses.

Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Powhatan, of St. Louis, Mo., testified that the man who was with their party at Phoenix a few days before the shooting was not August Pick, as was testified by Mrs. William H. Johnson, proprietor of the St. Francis hotel, but was August Rick; that Rick had some checks sent to him from Phoenix to Tucson erroneously addressed to "August Pick," and that because of the error the checks were a week late in reaching him and that Estaver was neither Rick nor Elmer Becker, another member of the party. According to the defense testimony, Rick was 19 years old, weighed 165, and "resembled Estaver as much as the county attorney does." Estaver is a man of slight build.

The time had come for Estaver to explain his different names and possibly a few other things.

From the Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1922:

Estaver Claims Assumed Name Used to "Shake" Friend
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SECOND TRIP MADE TO SENTINEL TO FIND MONEY LOST BY GIRL
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Estaver to Resume Stand Again This Morning
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To "shake" an acquaintance who wanted to borrow money, William S. Estaver, of Detroit, last November registered as "J. C. Beck" at two Tucson hotels, Estaver yesterday told the jury trying him in the superior court on a charge of first degree murder, in connection with the death of Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, of Denver. Mrs. Johnson was shot and killed on the Ajo-Stoval road, November 15, 1921.

Estaver took the stand in his own defense at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. All the seats in the court room were taken, and a number of persons were standing.

Today, Estaver will have to face a rigorous cross-examination by the state. The questioning will be done by County Attorney George R. Darnell, the direct examination of prosecution witnesses having been handled chiefly by Deputy County Attorney Ben B. Mathews.

John L. Van Buskirk, who, assisted by K. Berry Peterson, is defending Estaver, said last night that his direct examination of the defendant would probably be completed by noon today.

Estaver spoke in tones so low that frequently his counsel and Court Stenographer Harry C. Nixon had to ask him to raise his voice.

The defendant was carefully attired in a light brown suit. He is sharp of feature and slight of build, weighing scarcely 135 pounds. He said he was 30 years old.

Claims to Be Salesman

Estaver gave his occupation as that of auto supply salesman, and said that he had engaged in that work for five years. He testified that he motored into Tucson with Miss Grace Gaynor, en route to Los Angeles from Detroit; that 18 miles east of Sentinel their car broke down; that they sent word for help to Sentinel, and were towed in by G. R. McGaw; that from Sentinel he called up O. B. Anderson and asked him to come to Sentinel and repair his car, and that Anderson did so. Estaver and "the young lady" as Estaver called his companion, during his direct examination, went on to Los Angeles by train, and Anderson drove the car through to the coast city on October 31, bringing with him certain belongings that had been left behind, according to the defendant's testimony.

When Estaver and Miss Gaynor reached Los Angeles, they discovered that she had lost a black beaded bag containing $600, and when Anderson brought their car they immediately opened up a box in which the purse might have been placed in the hurry of packing, Estaver testified. The bag was not found.

The defendant said that he and Miss Gaynor registered at the Hotel Rosslyn, in Los Angeles, and that when she left for her home in Jackson, Mich., he moved to the Hotel Hayward. He later went to San Francisco, he added.

Estaver said that he left San Francisco Noveber 10, buying a ticket for Tucson because the Golden State Limited did not stop at Sentinel. He wanted to return to sentinel to look for the young lady's money, he testified.

He arrived at Tucson on November 13, stopped at the Hotel Heidel for a night and then registered at the Hotel Willard, under the name of J. C. Beck, Estaver testified.

When Mr. Van Buskirk asked the witness why he used an assumed name, there was an audible rustle in the court room, as jurors and spectators leaned forward to catch the defendant's reply.

"While I was at the Hotel Hayward, in Los Angeles, I met a salesman named Lawrence Fitzgerald," Estaver began. "He invited me to supper, but when it came time to pay, he found that he did not have the money to settle for it, saying that he had not drawn his commission. I paid the bill."

During the first part of the recital, efforts of the witness to detail to alleged conversation with Fitzgerald were repeatedly blocked by County Attorney Darnell, whose objections to the testimony as hearsay were sustained.

"After that, Fitzgerald tried to borrow money from me," the defendant resumed. "The first day I was in Tucson I met him, and he wanted to borrow money from me again.

"I had tried to shake him before. I registered under an assumed name because I thought he would search the hotels for me."

Estaver identified a black bag containing a number of automobile accessories as belonging to him. These accessories, among them cement varnish, monograms, radiator caps and an automatic windshield cleaner operated by means of a cord attached to the motor, were shown to the jury.

Estaver was then asked about conversations with a number of men in Tucson regarding having had a car broken down on the other side of Ajo. The defendant in part corroborated the testimony of a number of prosecution witnesses, but denied having made any reference to his car as still being stranded in the desert. He likewise denied ever having spoken to J. N. McCain in a barber shop at Tucson, or to William Knelange, custodian of the Tucson auto shop, who testified that he had been obliged to eject Estaver from the camp because the latter insisted on asking tourists for a "lift" to Los Angeles. Estaver asserted that he saw both men for the first time while he was in the county jail, when he was shown to them.

Meets Johnson

Estaver testified that he first saw Mrs. Johnson as she was dusting her clothing off after having stepped out of her car, which was standing by the curb on one of the streets here, on November 14. He said that he was the first to speak, opening the conversation with some remark about the dusty roads, and asking as to whether she was going to the coast. He then recounted his experience with the road west of Tucson, saying that it was in very bad condition and telling of the breakdown west of Ajo, Estaver testified.

After Mrs. Johnson and Estaver had been in conversation for two or three minutes, her husband came up, and Mrs. Johnson said something about Estaver's having had experience with the roads, according to the defendant's testimony.

"Doc, sorry we can't take you along, but we are overloaded already," Estaver quoted Johnson as saying, adding that he agreed with Johnson. Estaver said he recommended the Willard hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and that when he returned to the Willard later in the evening he was told that some one had been looking for him. He was conducted to Johnson's room, and spoke in the hall, Johnson informing him that he had been thinking it over, and that he would take Estaver along if the latter would pay for having a trunk shipped to Los Angeles.

Estaver agreed, and the next morning Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and Estaver started out in the Johnsons' Dodge car. Mr. Johnson sat at the left, driving, Mrs. Johnson at the right, and Estaver in the rear seat, according to the defendant's testimony.

They stopped at Indian Oasis for lunch, and reached Rowood at 4 p.m., where they had some refreshments, Estaver said.

The defendant claimed on the stand that he did not want to go on to Sentinel that evening, giving as his reason the fact that he wished to go over the road in the daytime, so that he might be the better able to look for the lost bag. Johnson insisted that they go on, however, and so the party proceeded, Estaver testified.

The greater part of the morning session was taken with the cross-examination of W. F. Timmons, Yuma attorney, who had been put on the stand the day before by the defense.

The only other witness examined was W. G. Keiser, a prospector, who substantially corroborated the testimony of Mr. Timmons as to the trip made to the alleged "scuffle ground," a few days after the killing. According to the defense, there were tracks tending to indicate that Estaver and a man wearing a large cowboy boot had engaged in a scuffle, the scene of the alleged struggle being enacted, three questers of a mile nearer Stoval that the spot where the state contends that the shooting occurred. About two hours of the time during which Keiser was on the stand was consumed in the identification of pictures and plats, which were passed to the jury for examination.

It would appear that there are a few different stories of what happened. Both seem reasonable and believable at points, but they can't both be true. And until this article, Estaver had been labeled as a Detroit dentist, but perhaps he changed jobs.

Next: Discrepancies.

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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

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