Monday, January 21, 2019

Reanimating the Killer

Thora Chamberlain

The sad case of the vanished bobby-soxer
by Robert A. Waters

After school let out on that sun-drenched afternoon in November, 1945, hundreds of excited teens tromped toward the football stadium.  The Campbell (California) High School Buccaneers would soon be in action and school spirit was high.

Thomas H. McMonigle, 30, an ex-con from Illinois, trolled along in his car, watching. After a few minutes, he spotted his target—cute fourteen-year-old Thora Chamberlain. Walking on the sidewalk with several girlfriends, she wore her school colors: a red skirt and blue sweater, along with two pairs of bobby socks, a red and blue one on each foot.  In addition to her schoolbooks, Thora carried a cowbell.

McMonigle pulled up to the curb and motioned Thora over.  Rolling down the passenger window, he asked the girl if she’d like to baby-sit for him and his wife.  The fact that he was wearing military clothing (Navy grays with several medals, including a purple heart) may have made her less cautious than she normally would be.

Thora told him she was headed to the football game, and didn’t want to miss it.  He insisted that he’d pay her double, and it would only be for thirty minutes.  She’d be back in time for the game, he said.  Several classmates said they saw her get in the car and watched it drive away.  Before leaving, Thora called to a friend to “save me a seat.”

The teen was never seen again by anyone except her killer.

The FBI became involved in the search, and quickly honed in on the career criminal.  But by that time, McMonigle had fled.  He hitchhiked to his father’s home in Illinois, trailed by agents, staying a step ahead as he crisscrossed back and forth across the country.  The Feds finally caught up with him in San Francisco.

Thora’s classmates identified McMonigle as the man who had driven away with Thora, and he soon confessed.  He said he had shot her with a .32-caliber revolver, then driven her to “Devil’s Slide” in San Mateo County where he dropped her off a 300-foot cliff into the ocean.

The FBI and other agencies launched a massive search of the area, but never found Thora’s body.  However, they did locate her socks in a rock crevice about two-thirds of the way down the cliff.  The poignancy of that find came home to investigators when Thora’s parents identified the socks.  Their inconsolable grief touched the agents.

While digging up a construction site where McMonigle had sporadically worked, agents discovered Thora’s shoes, schoolbooks and papers, zipper binder, and cowbell.  They also located a .32-caliber pistol in the suspect’s luggage.  The Navy uniform McMonigle had worn during the abduction was also found, and proved to have been stolen from a former serviceman.

McMonigle made numerous confessions, all different.  For instance, he asserted that after Thora got in his car, he drove at breakneck speed, causing her to become frightened.  She jumped out, injuring herself.  McMonigle stated he picked her up, intending to take her to the hospital, but she died on the way.  He said he didn’t know what to do so he stopped and buried her.

Tall tales aside, and even though Thora’s body was never found, a jury convicted McMonigle and sentenced him to die in the gas chamber.

During his interviews with the FBI, McMonigle confessed to murdering Dorothy Rose Jones and burying her at Devil’s Slide.  Although he led agents to her grave, he was never tried for that crime.

Enter Dr. Robert Cornish, 42, a Berkley scientist and revivification “expert.”  The scientist informed reporters that McMonigle had contacted him, offering his body for “reanimation” after he was executed.

Cornish had made headlines, although in a negative way.  After trying unsuccessfully to resurrect humans, the UCLA scientist had gone to the dogs, literally five fox terriers.  Cornish named these animals Lazarus I, II, III, IV, and V.  Unlike the Biblical character, none fared well, even the last two, whom he succeeded in resuscitating after killing them.  When the public heard about the experiments on the innocent little terriers, they were horrified.  Cornish was summarily kicked out of his UCLA lab and sent packing.

Still, he continued his experiments.  He inferred that he had perfected his method, which was to inject the dead with a concoction of adrenalin, blood, and liver extract, then place the corpse on a teeterboard, rocking it back and forth to thoroughly mix the potion.  That, Cornish claimed, was the key to reanimation.

The mad scientist was sure he could bring the killer back to life.

McMonigle petitioned California authorities to allow the procedure, but officials denied his request due to concerns that the murderer would have to be freed if he succeeded in coming back to life.

During all this mess, the lost girl who just wanted to cheer on her high school team was rarely mentioned.

On the morning of February 20, 1948, McMonigle ate two hearty meals, smoked several cigars, joked with his guards, then was escorted to the gas chamber.  At about 10:13 A.M., a prison doctor pronounced the unrepentant child-killer dead.

Really dead, unlike the now pathetic, still-alive but invalid terrier zombies, Lazarus IV and V.    

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Murdered Mailman and the Palm Print

The Jarbidge Stagecoach Robbery
by Robert A. Waters

December 16, 1916 rode into the Nevada mountains on a snowstorm.  It was not a pleasant time to be transporting mail in a buckboard wagon pulled by two horses.  Fred M. Searcy, the driver, shivered through the late evening on his route from Three Creek, Idaho to a remote mining town called Jarbidge, in Elko County near the state line.

Searcy’s route wound down Crippen Grade, a steep, dangerous pass.  With icy winds sweeping across the ridges, most residents stayed inside their homes.  A few hardy (or desperate) souls braved the elements to down a few at watering holes such as “The Northern” saloon.

Gold had been discovered there in 1909.  Soon the boomtown bustled with restaurants, hotels, saloons, stables and other businesses catering to miners.  While the weather was balmy in the summer, deep winter snows and nasty storms drove many miners away for the winter.  (Before closing in 1932, the mines extracted somewhere between 10 million and 50 million dollars-worth of gold.)

Postmaster Scott Fleming waited nervously.  He knew the Three Creek mail wagon carried $3,000 in cash, as well as a registered bag filled with first-class mail.  Before dawn the next morning, townspeople began searching for the missing driver.  Nell Burbarger described the scene: “Defying the storm that was now wailing through the dark streets of the mountain mining camp, a volunteer searching party, lighted by kerosene lanterns, began combing the canyon…”

A few hours later, they found a gruesome scene.  Tucked back in dense woods a quarter of a mile from town, the wagon sat motionless.  Sitting against it was the corpse of Searcy, a bullet in the back of his head.  According to Burbarger, “the sack containing the first-class mail—including $3,200 in cash consigned to Crumley & Walker’s Success Bar and CafĂ©, and other smaller amounts to a total of nearly $4,000—was nowhere to be seen.”

Suspicion immediately settled on a ne’er-do-well named Ben Kuhl.  He’d recently been fined $400 for “jumping a claim,” and was out on bond.  Before coming to Jarbidge, he’d been jailed in California for petty theft and served a year in the Oregon State Prison for horse theft.  His torn coat was found at the scene of the murder, and he had access to a .44-caliber pistol, the type used to kill Searcy.  Kuhl was arrested and placed in the Jarbidge jail to await trial.

Part of the evidence against him consisted of bloody letters found at the scene.  One had a near-perfect palm print on it.  Authorities hired two fingerprint experts from California to examine the letter, and both testified that the print belonged to Kuhl.  (This was the first time palm print evidence was allowed in an American court.)

Kuhl was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  On appeal, the courts commuted his sentence to life in prison.  After spending 27 years in prison, he was released in 1945. Kuhl later died of tuberculosis in San Francisco.  One accomplice, Ed Beck, was convicted of providing the murder weapon and sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled six years later.  A third accomplice turned state’s evidence and walked free.

Western lore, never much concerned with truth, soon transformed the mail heist into a “stage coach” robbery.  In fact, it allegedly became “the last stagecoach robbery in the wild west.”  Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archivist, dismisses that claim.  He writes that “the embellished robbery story converted a buckboard wagon into a stagecoach the likes of the Overland Stage.”

And what’s more western than a good lost treasure story?  Legend has it that the $3,000 was not in paper money but gold coins, and that it’s still buried somewhere near Jarbidge.  Treasure hunters continue to roam the mountain with metal detectors in hopes of finding that box of dreams.

NOTE: Pictured is a saloon token from Jarbidge.  For many years I collected tokens, (also called scrip) which were used almost from the founding of America to the present day.  Caroline Augustine writes: “Saloon owners returned change for their patrons’ payments of real money for goods and services with tokens, which were ‘good for’ drinks only at that saloon.  Saloon patrons returned to use the tokens in lieu of real money.  Many times, they never returned, thereby earning the saloon owner an even nicer profit.  By the way, if you don’t find that box of gold, a second-best option might be a jar filled with saloon tokens.  Their value may not equal gold, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to pay off your house, and maybe even your car.