Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 5

2014-08-12T00:00:00Z Tales from the Morgue: Deadly road trip, Part 5Johanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

William Estaver was on trial for the murder of Anna C. Johnson and wounding her husband while the three were traveling in the Johnsons' car.

The first day of the trial was April 10, 1922, with the testimony of the doctor and the county engineer. The doctor, J. D. Ketcherside of Yuma, testified of the bullet wounds in Mrs. Johnson's body and said that the one that caused her quick death was one that entered the back of her head and split inside her head.

Mr. Johnson's wounds were made by the same caliber of bullet.

The county engineer used a map to identify the route the Johnsons took from Tucson to the scene of the shooting and told of the cartridges he found at the scene.

The following day brought expert testimony about the bullet that killed Mrs. Johnson.

A note: For the most part, these articles are reprinted as they ran in the Star in 1921 and 1922. The article were pulled from microfilm, and since some of the film has degraded or the original papers filmed — likely years later — had faded, there are occasional notations of unreadable words. There are also inconsistencies in spelling, especially of the name of the town of Stoval or Stovall.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Wednesday, April 12, 1922:

 

Bullet From Estaver Gun Killed Woman, Witness asserts

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SENATOR EDDY USED BY STATE AS AN EXPERT

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Defendant Is Also Accused by Husband of Mrs. Johnson

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"In your opinion, was the bullet found in Mrs. Johnson's body, fired from the Estaver gun?"

"Yes."

In these words, State Senator A. J. Eddy, of Yuma county, practicing attorney and, according to his statement, with twelve years' experience as a mechanic and machinist, yesterday furnished the surprise testimony of the day for the prosecution, at the trial of William S. Estaver, Detroit dentist, on a charge of murder in connection with the death of Mrs. Anna C. Johnson, who was shot and killed on the Ajo-Stoval road, November 15, 1921. The case is being tried before Judge Pattee in the superior court.

Senator Eddy hurried from Phoenix, where he had been attending the state legislature, to testify as an expert for the state in one of the most celebrated murder cases that have been tried in Arizona in several years.

He identified 20 photographs of bullets that had been shot by him, the pictures having been photographed in his presence, and part of them developed and printed under his own eyes. It developed that he had been at work on the case since November 17 or 18 of last year—two or three days after the shooting.

During his examination, Deputy County Attorney asked Senator Eddy:

"Do any two guns have the same rifling?"

"No."

"Do any two guns of the same make have the same rifling?"

"No."

It was then that the deputy county attorney asked Senator Eddy the question regarding the bullet that slew Mrs. Johnson, in the effort to weld another link in the chain with which the state is seeking to bind Estaver.

Referring to another bullet offered in evidence by the state as "Exhibit [unreadable]" for identification—a bullet that had been found, according to previous testimony, by County Engineer W. C. Lefebvre at the scene of the killing on April 6 last, Senator Eddy testified that the missile was fired from the same gun which had fired the bullet that had killed Mrs. Johnson.

The witness also testified that a bullet that had been found on the door of the Johnson car at Stovall on November 16, 1921, according to the testimony of Sheriff Polhamus, of Yuma, was from the Estaver gun, saying that it had the same peculiarities.

Mr. Mathews then showed Senator Eddy another bullet, which had not been introduced in evidence, and asked him whether, after examination and comparison, he believed that it had been fired from the same gun.

Senator Eddy declared that it had not, but that it had been fired from a gun of similar twist.

Senator Eddy was the last witness to be examined yesterday. He will be cross examined today by John L. Van Buskirk and K. Berry Peterson, counsel for the defense.

The prosecution is being conducted by County Attorney George R. Darnell, assisted by Mr. Mathews.

Peter Johnson, husband of the dead woman, was also on the stand yesterday, and will be cross-examined today. Johnson's cross examination was deferred to today to give Senator Eddy opportunity to testify and return to Phoenix as soon as possible.

Assistant County Engineer Charles Eaton, the first witness on the stand yesterday, testified to making a trip to the scene of the killing on November 22, 1921, and another trip on April 6 of this year, for the purpose of helping in the making of a survey of the scene.

Peter Johnson was the next witness. He said that he and Mrs. Johnson had started out from Denver in the early part of last November, in a new Dodge car, their destination being Los Angeles and other southern California points. He said that before leaving the Colorado city he had extra strong lights placed on his machine—stronger than the regular lights on stock cars.

When he and his wife arrived in Tucson, he parked his car near the agency of the Dodge cars, and went to the agency to see about storing his car for the night, he said.

When he returned to the machine, he found Estaver in conversation with his wife, the witness testified, adding that he understood Estaver to say that his name was "Buckmaster." Estaver told him that he had a broken down machine at Sentinel, and that his wife was waiting for him there, Johnson said. The defendant said that he wanted to find some one with whom he could ride out there, since service car men wanted to charge him $75 for the trip, Johnson testified, explaining that Estaver had said that he had come to Tucson to get repairing materials and that he wanted to take them back to his car.

The witness said that he informed Estaver that he had intended to go to the coast via Phoenix and Blyth, but that Estaver convinced him that the road by way of Ajo, Sentinel and Yuma was the better road, showing him a picture of a car stuck in the sand, which Estaver said had been taken on the Blyth road.

Johnson testified that he told Estaver he could not carry anyone, since the machine was overloaded as it was, and that Estaver bent down and looked at the rear springs.

Estaver recommended to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson that they stop at the Willard hotel, where he was stopping, saying that it was a good hotel and the Johnsons went to the hotel and registered for the night, according to the witness, who added that he searched the hotel record for the name of the defendant but that he could not find it.

"At about 9 or 10 o'click that night, he came knocking to my door, having been sent there by the proprietor, of whom I had made inquiries regarding the man," Johnson testified, adding that he agreed that if Estaver would pay for having a trunk that was in the back of the car shipped to Los Angeles, he would take him along. Arrangements were made accordingly, and Estaver and Johnson procured a rope and tied up the trunk, taking it to the railroad station, where Estaver paid the expressage with two $5 bills, receiving $4.60 in change, according to Johnson. The witness detailed the trip to Ajo, saying that he was driving, on the left side of the front seat, with his wife sitting at his right, and Estaver in the middle of the rear seat with his luggage by him.

Johnson said that they made a stop for Estaver to get some refreshments on the road, and that a second stop was made at Rowood, where a bottle of pop and some root beer were bought. Johnson said something about whether they had better go on to Sentinel that night, that Estaver looked worried and said that it was 40 miles away, that there was a good hotel there, and that the last 11 miles of the road were on hard ground, according to the testimony.

Johnson then decided to go on to Sentinel, he said. From Ajo to the scene of the killing, Mrs. Johnson watched the clock and the speedometer, calling out information to Estaver, and Estaver directed Johnson from a road map that he said he had obtained from the Southern California Automobile club, Johnson testified.

When they had gotten to a point where the speedometer registered 161 miles (Tucson reading), Johnson remarked that they were supposed to reach Sentinel when the speedometer showed 170 miles, that they had only 9 miles to go, and that they had not yet reached the hard ground about which Estaver had spoken, the witness related.

Johnson then testified that he turned his head as he said this, and that the next thing that happened he was shot on the left side of the face. The car stopped, but the engine still was running, he said. As he reached around to feel and see what was wrong, he was shot a second time, this time in the back.

His wife was then shot "by that man," Johnson declared, pointing to the defendant, and fell away from him, to the right side of the seat. While in this position, she said, according to the witness:

"That's what we get for being good and helping out a stranger!"

Johnson said that he reached around for Estaver, but said that he either fell out or jumped out of the car, that he "couldn't grab him, but felt his grip." Johnson got away as fast as he could, pulling his wife's body toward him so that it rested against him, the witness said.

Johnson identified the clothing worn on the trip by him, consisting of khaki coveralls, trousers, khaki flannel shirt, vest and underwear. The coveralls, undershirt and shirt showed a bullet hole in the right arm.

The witness said that when he had driven for some distance he stopped, took out some business cards from his vest pocket and wrote on them that he had been shot and his wife killed by the man that he had with him, and that the hotel man at Tucson would know who did it. Johnson said that he wrote statements to this effect on three different cards at three different times, putting the cards back into his pocket.

Efforts by the state to introduce the cards into the evidence were successfully met by counsel for the defense.

Drove to Stovall

After the first stop, Johnson said he drove on some distance further, and stopped for the night, sitting in the car with the dead body of his wife leaning against him. In the morning he drove into Stovall and told the story of the night's tragedy to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cronk, of Denver, Johnson said, adding that he and Cronk tried to get assistance from Yuma by telephone, but that they could not get telephone connection.

Johnson testified that Cronk flagged an approaching train, that the conductor, brakeman and P. S. Sullivan, a special officer of the Southern Pacific railroad, got off, and that Signal Maintainer Jack Sleeths approached on a speedster. Johnson said that he described Estaver to Sullivan and Sleeths, that the two latter men got on the speedster and started east, and that in a few minutes they returned with Estaver.

As Estaver approached, Johnson said that he said to Estaver:

"You scoundrel, why didn't you finish me last night the way you did my wife, and put me out of my misery?"

Estaver Had Gun

Special Officer Sullivan, the next witness, testified that he was on the train going west on the morning of November 16, and that the train was flagged at Stovall at about 10 o'clock. Sullivan said that he had some conversation with Johnson, and that the latter described a man that he said had shot him and his wife the night before. Sullivan said that he and Sleeths took a gasoline speedster and went up the track in an easterly direction, and overtook the defendant, 2 1/2 miles east of Stovall, walking down the tracks away from Stovall, toward Tucson. Sullivan said that he ordered Estaver to throw up his hands, and that he did so. The special officer asked Estaver where the gun was, and Estaver replied that it was in his back pocket, according to the witness, who said he took the gun from Estaver. At this point Sullivan identified the state's exhibit "M" as the gun that he had taken from Estaver. The special agent testified that he heard Johnson say to Estaver, "You scoundrel, why didn't you finish me last night?"

Sheriff J. M. Polhamus, of Yuma county, identified one bullet and five empty shells picked up by him in Johnson's car. The sheriff testified that he found four of the empty shells and the bullet at Stovall on November 16, and that he found the other shell at Yuma in the bedding back of the car several days later. All were of .32 caliber, Mr. Polhamus declared.

Special Officer Sullivan delivered to him a .32 caliber Mauser as the Estaver gun, Sheriff Polhamus said, identifying state's exhibit "M" as the gun turned over to him by Sullivan. The state announced that Polhamus would be called again for further examination.

Dr. C. E. Rooney, of Yuma, testified that he performed an autopsy on Mrs. Johnson on November 19, in collaboration with Dr. Hillary D. Ketcherside. He said that he found three bullet wounds of entrance and one of exit, and identified two bullets found in her body, declaring that death was caused by the bullet that entered her head and lodged in the brain.

During the following day's testimony, Yuma county Sheriff J. M. Polhamus said that the only fresh tracks he found at the scene of the shooting a few days after the shooting were those of Estaver, probably indicating that he didn't find evidence of the robbers Estaver said had attacked the party.

The defense cast doubt on Senator Eddy's expertise, especially when he was unable to identify an automatic pistol.

Next: Mr. Johnson is cross examined.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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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