Did your mother ever tell you not to pick up hitchhikers? While the accused murderer in this case wasn't actually hitchhiking, he was a stranger who was offered a ride after meeting a couple in their travels. It turns out that may have been a really bad idea on the part of the driver.
From the Arizona Daily Star, Thursday, Nov. 17, 1921:
Man Taken in Auto Here Held in Connection With Killing
ARREST OF ALLEGED DENTIST GROWS OUT OF KILLING OF MRS. PETER JOHNSON; HUSBAND SHOT
Man Whose Name Is Unknown Was Picked Up in Tucson by Johnsons; Quarrel Regarding Route Being Followed Caused Shooting
Said to have been taken aboard the death car at Tucson, a dentist is under arrest at Yuma in connection with the killing of Mrs. Peter Johnson, of Denver, Colorado, and the serious wounding of her husband, 40 miles east of Yuma yesterday morning, according to an Associated Press dispatch received by The Arizona Daily Star last night.
At an early hour this morning, local police and sheriff's officers were without information as to the possible identity of the man, who is said to have accepted the offer made by Mr. and Mrs. Johnson to let him ride with them in their automobile to Los Angeles.
In a long-distance telephone conversation with the sheriff's office at Yuma this morning, it was learned that the sheriff had not yet arrived with his prisoner. For that reason it was impossible to ascertain the man's name.
The dispatch follows:
Yuma, Ariz., Nov. 16.—Mrs. Peter Johnson, of Denver, Colo., was shot and killed and her husband seriously wounded while riding in an automobile 40 miles east of here today. A man who was riding with them when they were shot is being brought to jail here in connection with the affair, according to word received at the sheriff's office here tonight. Johnson was brought to this city for treatment. The body of Mrs. Johnson was left on the desert until tomorrow, when an inquest will be held.
According to Mr. Johnson's story, he and his wife met the other man, a dentist, in Tucson and offered to let him ride with them in their automobile to Los Angeles. He shipped his trunks to Los Angeles, Mr. Johnson said. Today, Johnson declared, an argument arose over which road to follow and the passenger shot both Johnson and his wife. The passenger, Johnson said, was riding in the rear seat while Mrs. and Mrs. Johnson were in the front. Johnson says he doesn't know the name of the passenger.
The passenger denies Johnson's story. He told local officers that the Johnsons were shot by two men who jumped out of the brush beside the road.
The passenger was arrested a few miles east of here as he was walking along the railroad tracks.
JOHNSON A CONTRACTOR
Denver, Nov. 16.—Peter Johnson, who was seriously wounded and whose wife was shot and killed near Yuma, Arizona, yesterday, is a Denver contractor.
Relatives here said Johnson and his wife had left Denver a week ago last Saturday in an automobile for California.
The second headline refers to the passenger as an alleged dentist. The Morgue Lady assumes the headline writer meant that the dentist was an alleged murderer, though his occupation was likely not yet firmly established since his name was not known.
It may also be assumed that the "death car" refers to the car in which Mrs. Johnson was killed. Before that, it was just a car.
From the Arizona Daily Star, Saturday Nov. 19, 1921:
HUSBAND OF MURDERED WOMAN IDENTIFIES ESTAVER AS MAN PICKED UP IN HIS CAR HERE
Passenger In Johnson Car Held In Connection With Killing of Mrs. Peter Johnson and Shooting of the Latter's Husband
That the man giving his name as William S. Estaver, being held by the Yuma authorities for investigation in connection with the killing of Mrs. Peter Johnson and the wounding of her husband, has been identified by Johnson as the man he had picked up acquaintance with in Tucson, was the statement contained in the report received by the Southern Pacific railroad police from Special Officer T. S. Sullivan yesterday. Officer Sullivan's report contained a full account of finding Johnson and his murdered wife at Stovall and of later arresting Estaver on information furnished by the wounded man. The identification of Estaver by Johnson as the man he had given a seat in his car in Tucson, and who was in the car at the time of the shooting, followed, according to Officer Sullivan's statement.
Sullivan, who works under Special Officer Joe Kelly, chief of the Southern Pacific police, and is located at Yuma, was making an inspection over the line to Yuma when his attention was called to the shooting. A railroad employee at Stovall accosted him, asking that he investigate the shooting, which had just been reported by Johnson. The injured man had driven with his dead wife in the car from the place of the attack to Stovall.
He found Johnson weak from the loss of blood, Sullivan reports, and upon examination found that he had been shot several times. One bullet had entered his neck behind the left ear, emerging on the right side of the neck. The injured man told the officer of the man who had been in the car when the shooting occurred, and who had disappeared. Borrowing an automobile, Sullivan drove down the road and at a distance of two miles overtook Estaver. He later took the man before Johnson, who identified him as his passenger from Tucson.
Estaver is described by Officer Sullivan as about 30 years old, of small stature, and wearing a grey suit. This answers the description given by C. S. Cox, proprietor of the Willard hotel, of the man who left Tucson in the car with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. The man, according to Proprietor Cox, had registered at the Willard Monday night as J. C. Beck, of Los Angeles. The guest, Mr. Cox continued, became acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson at the hotel and was invited by Johnson to accompany them on their trip to Los Angeles. A Mauser .32 pistol was found by Sullivan in Estaver's pocket, the officer claimed.
The murder and assault apparently enraged quite a few of the people of Yuma County. They gathered at the jail intending to lynch the accused man. However, he was saved so he could stand trial.
From the Star, Friday, Nov. 25, 1921:
Man Held in Connection With Woman's Death Brought Here
ESTAVER SAVED FROM MOB BY SHERIFF'S ACTION IN WHISKING HIM TO SAFETY IN AN AUTOMOBILE
Crowd Gathered About Yuma County Jail for Avowed Purpose of Lynching Prisoner; Man Being Held in County Jail
Guarded by two peace officers, and with a murder charge hanging over him, a slender, medium-statured man with singular features and a few days' growth of beard, arrived in Tucson yesterday morning and ate his Thanksgiving dinner in the Pima county jail.
His name is William S. Estaver. His home is in Detroit, Mich., and he is accused of the murder of Mrs. Anna Johnson, of Denver, on the Tucson-Yuma road, at a point five miles this side of the Pima-Yuma line. He will probably be arraigned before Justice of the Peace Oscar L. Pease some time today.
Estaver was brought to Tucson by Sheriff J. M. Polhamus and Deputy Sheriff Pat Holland, of Yuma county, after a thrilling escape from a Yuma mob, which is reported to have formed for the avowed purpose of lynching Estaver.
Spirited to Safety
Sheriff Polhamus secretly removed his prisoner form the Yuma county jail Wednesday night when the mob began to form, whisked him away in an automobile to a point 30 miles east of Yuma, where he boarded the train to Tucson.
Driving along the Gila bottom for thirty miles, part of the time without lights, Sheriff Polhamus finally managed to give his pursuers the slip and landed his prisoner safely aboard a train at Dome.
"I was told that masked men stopped two or three automobiles on he road to Dome, thinking that one of them might be my car," Sheriff Polhamus told The Star last night. "Although I did not know that the roads were being watched by masked men, I had been informed to this effect, and I was determined to take no chances of having my man taken away from me. Innocent or guilty, he was in my safekeeping and I was responsible for him.
"We left Yuma in an automobile at 9:15 Wednesday night, and reached Dome at about midnight. There was about a foot and one half of water in the Gila bottom, but we managed to pick out the driest places and were able to navigate without great difficulty, although we could not make much speed because of the necessity of turning our lights off at times."
Estaver was shackled while on the train coming into Tucson, his fetters being removed shortly before his arrival in the city. Sheriff Polhamus said that the body of Mrs. Johnson was sent to Denver a few days ago. Her son, George A. E. Johnson, is at his father's bedside in Yuma.
Finger Prints Taken
Upon his arrival at the sheriff's office, Estaver's finger prints and other identification marks were recorded by Deputy Sheriff Dave. F. Wilson, identification expert for Pima county, and were telegraphed to the central station at Leavenworth, Kas. The man's height is five feet six and one-half inches, his weight is 135 pounds, and his complexion is described as medium fair, according to Deputy Sheriff Wilson.
While his identification marks were being recorded, he at first denied that he had ever gone by another name, but upon being questioned further, he admitted that he might have registered at the Willard hotel here under the name of Buck, Deputy Wilson said.
Peter Johnson, the dead woman's husband, who was seriously wounded at the time Mrs. Johnson was killed, is reported on the road to recovery in a Yuma hospital, Undersheriff Charles H. Pogue said yesterday afternoon.
According to Johnson's story, the shooting, which occurred on November 16, was the culmination of a quarrel over which road to take. Estaver is said to have been picked up in Tucson by the Johnsons while they were on their way to Los Angeles.
So much for the angry mob. Estaver would get his day in court.
Next: Peter Johnson's grisly story.