April 30, 2017

The Dynamite Attack on JS Acker's House

It seemed just a normal sleepy night in Prescott early on Saturday, April 21st, 1917, when at 2:30 am an explosion rocked the city.

It was "a diabolical attempt to blow up the home of JS Acker, (at) 205 North Mt. Vernon Street." (*1)

It seemed someone wanted to see the future donor of park land to Prescott dead. But why?

"By a miracle no one was hurt." The blast also shattered the windows of nearby houses and "was plainly heard all over the town by people who were awake. Mr. & Mrs. Acker were roused from their slumbers" by the blast and they immediately telephoned the sheriff's office. (*1)

"From the appearance of the place it was evident that someone passed the house and threw a stick of giant powder, to which was attached a lighted fuse. The missile struck just below the parlor window and when it exploded tore a large hole in the ground at that point, ripped loose all the boards at the north end of the house and shattered every pane of glass in the parlor windows, the concussion also breaking and cracking windows in other parts of the residence." (*1)

"Mr. Acker when asked, said he suspected no one of the outrage and was totally at a loss to account for it." (*1)

It was determined that had the dynamite gone through the parlor window it could have brought the entire wooden structure down with the Ackers still in it. As it was, the explosion occurred near the foundation of the house blasting a large pile of dirt that stretched across the public sidewalk.

True Crime murder story by teen-age delinquents in 1956 Prescott.

Four days later a reward of $1000 was offered "jointly by the board of supervisors and JS Acker." (*2)

The investigation seemed promising at first, but quickly went cold. "The sheriff's office continued...trying to get together facts in connection with the outrage, but was unable to locate anything on which a case might be hung. Several warm clues were followed. There were no witnesses to the deed, and it is difficult to gather any coherent accounts." (*2)

Although the perpetrator was never identified, the scuttlebutt about town began to reveal a motive for the crime.

It all started with pesky rodents and a violent storm.

JS Acker wanted to rid his house and outbuilding of the pests that were nesting there. He bought some cheese, put poison on it, and set some around his property. It was a practice done "a great number of times in the past, and always, as this time, for the sole purpose of the exterminating rodents," Acker later stated. (*3)

During these times, Acker would keep his own dog inside so that she could not reach the poison.

However, this time a violent storm blew down a section of Acker's fence opening his yard to the neighbor's wandering pets. Unfortunately, three dogs entered, ate the cheese and died. (*3)

Acker looked to retrieve the rest of the poisonous cheese so no more animals would suffer, but found it had all been taken. He felt terrible about the accident, but thought that the matter was closed. He had no idea that one dog lover was plotting revenge...

The true tale of the 1959 crash of a Lockheed "Super Constellation" near Prescott, AZ and the mystery that lingers.

Due to his philanthropic gift of park land upon his death, JS Acker is generally looked upon fondly by Prescottonians today, but while he was alive, most considered him to be a bit cranky and cantankerous. For example, he would force children entering his store to show that they actually had money to spend. If they did not, he would chase them out.

Soon nasty rumors about Acker began to circulate, growing into a whale of a fish story. Finally, a week later, Acker had to write the newspaper to quell the gossip:
"I learned today for the first time that there is a persistent rumor in the city to the effect that I had tied my female dog in my front yard for the purpose of attracting other dogs, and had deliberately scattered poison in her vicinity and out of her reach, for the purpose of poisoning dogs attracted by her, and had, in this manner, killed by means of poison 19 dogs." 
After revealing what really happened, Acker continued: "I...state positively that if any dog was poisoned on my premises that it was wholly an accident and without design or intention on my part, and furthermore that I am an owner and admirer of dogs, and would be the last person in the world to cause the death of anyone's dog by poison." (*3)
While looking at the forensic evidence, it remained undetermined whether the dynamite was thrown and fell to the ground or was purposefully placed at the foundation. The difference being in the motive of whether a warning was meant or the intention was murder.

This amateur sleuth noticed that by all accounts not only were Mr. and Mrs. Acker awakened by the blast, but more significantly, so was Acker's dog. It seems that if someone had opened the front fence gate and started skulking under the parlor window at 2:30 am, nearly every canine ever created would have a conniption barking alarmingly and incessantly. However, this never happened. The perpetrator would have to have been completely silent. Because of this, this author believes it is more probable that the stick of dynamite was thrown and the intention was murder!

In any event, Acker's explanation as well as the heat of the law stopped any further attempts at revenge and the incident eventually fell into obscurity.

Tourist Tip:

CLICK HERE for a map of the Acker Memorial Park in Prescott 

Park features include: 1+ Mile Loop, Interpretive Info, Nature Quotes, Water Fountains, Tables, Trailside Benches, & Scenic Views.

Enhancements include: Restrooms, Presentation Area, Children's Activity Area, Youth Art, and Park Acknowledgement Wall



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(*1) Weekly Journal-Miner; 4/25/1917, Pg. 4 Col. 7. 
(*2) Weekly Journal-Miner; 4/25/1917, Pg. 6 Col. 7.

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