March 4, 2018

Rich Ranchman Tries to Get Away With Murder

1918's "trial of the century" was the first murder case ever heard in today's Yavapai County Courthouse. Details of the case were so lurid, salacious, and popular that column-inch coverage of the trial was greater than the concurrent, closing weeks of World War 1!

Cast of Main Characters:
Robert J. Miller: 36 year-old ranch-hand and kindly lady's man; worked on the Stephens' ranch and was gunned-down April 2, 1918 in a clothing store downtown on Gurley St.

Joe Stephens: Wealthy cattle rancher from the Simmons area and family patriarch. It would take an average 1918 worker over 130 years to earn what Joe Stephens was worth. Despite prohibition, he was known for frequent drunken tirades.

Mrs. Stephens: 45 year-old, besieged wife of Joe Stephens. At the very least, she was victim of drunken verbal abuse. Although the subject of domestic violence was not broached in 1918, contemporary readers might discern disturbing symptoms of such.

Harry "Bud" Stephens: Sophomoric son of Joe and Mrs. Stephens. Considered a World War 1 draft-dodger. There was no disagreement that this 22 year-old was the gunman who killed Miller.

"A large crowd was present at (Miller's) last rites," the paper reported, "the larger part of the gathering being composed of women. None of Miller's relatives were present at the funeral, nor were the authorities able to get in touch with any of them. A large number of his friends from the Williamson Valley district were present to view the remains for the last time."

Just a few weeks prior, Miller was in a car with Ernest Marlow, Sid Marks and Mrs. Stephens on their way to Prescott. Mrs. Stephens had had enough of her abusive husband. When they got to a point near the summit, Joe and Bud Stephens overtook them and demanded that they stop or Joe and Bud would shoot them.

"Bud jumped out of the car and yelled at his mother: 'What the hell are you doing here?'" 

"A stream of profanity and obscene talk (was) directed toward the woman by her husband" as "Bud echoed the vulgar language his father used."

Joe told his wife: "If you go with that man, you're no better than a _____ _____ w____," the paper literally reported. (Perhaps: god-damned whore?)

Mrs. Stephens told Bud and Joe that she never had relations with Miller.

Joe told his wife: "You know you have;" a judgment parroted by the son to his mother's face.

Mrs. Stephens then whispered to Marlow that she was afraid of her husband and son."Then father and son made an attempt to pull Mrs. Stephens out of the Marlow car. They tore several buttons off her garments" in the attempt.

Mrs. Stephens protested that she did not want to get out of the car. She told Marks: 'Sid, I don't want to ride with them. They are both drunk and they might kill me.'"

The situation had stalemated. As Joe and Bud left, Joe said "they would go to town and get a gun and shoot the whole damn bunch of (them)."

The story of a young pioneer braggart traveling to Yavapai county, Arizona and his terrible fate during the Indian Wars in 1872.

To avoid such a confrontation, the Marlow car detoured over a rough backroad to Jerome Junction. It took them until 3:30am to roll into Prescott. Mrs. Stephens asked Miller to get her a room and the two left the car at Gurley and Granite streets to lodge the lady at the Golden Eagle Hotel.

Theo deMorambert, proprietor of the Golden Eagle, should have charged $1 for a single but instead charged $1.50--the cost for two people to occupy it. deMorambert said he was confused and blamed his lack of english. "Neither Miller or Mrs. Stephens had registered" and no one had ever seen Miller enter or leave the room.

The next morning, Arthur W Davis found Bud Stephens crying. When asked what was the matter, Bud replied "that a man had broke up his home and his paw and maw had split up and now all he could do was to leave the country."

Later that morning, John Vickers found Bud at the Palace. "Bud was crying and was nervous and very much upset." Vickers accompanied Bud to the Reif Hotel and found Marlowe and Sid Marks staying there. Bud went ahead to the room and by the time Vickers caught up, "Bud was leaning on the bed and had hold of Marlowe. Bud said, "Tell me where she is or I'll bust you." Then Bud hit Marlowe in the face, cutting his eye.

Perhaps fearing retaliation from Sid Marks, Bud quickly left and met up with his father. They took the matter to Sheriff Joe Young. The two told the sheriff that Mrs. Stephens had been kidnapped "and that she had a lot of jewelry and $600 in money on her person." They asked the sheriff to find her. Bud told him that his mother was seen in a car with Marlowe and Marks last night and she might soon be leaving with Miller.

Quickly the three men were rounded up and put in jail. After learning that Mrs. Stephens was in Room 4 at the Golden Eagle, an under-sheriff was sent to investigate. He found that Mrs. Stephens did have her jewelry and money with her, "but she would not go back to the Stephen's ranch."

The sheriff himself went to visit Mrs. Stephens in the early afternoon to confirm her story. She told the sheriff that he had "no right to hold those boys in jail." The sheriff explained to her "that she had been reported as missing with a lot of jewelry and money" and that he had to hold them until he was sure she had not been robbed.

Mrs. Stephens reiterated to the sheriff that she wasn't going back to her husband. Instead, she was "going to get a divorce and would never have anything to do with her husband again." When  the sheriff asked why she was unwilling to go back, Mrs. Stephens quipped that "it was a perfect hell."

The sheriff related this news to Joe and Bud. He then went to the jail to release the three men and told Miller, "Mr. Stephens tells me Bud wants to get his mother back to the ranch. Now if you will keep out of sight until things blow over, everything will be all right."

However, Miller refused insisting "that he had done nothing to hide out for." Meanwhile, both father and son tried their best to get the wife and mother to come back home. She only refused.

Bud, entirely distraught at this point, headed to Hill's Hardware and bought himself a Colt .38.

The Murder:
Miller had bought a suit at Bruchman's clothing store and went to pick it up. As Miller began to leave, Bud walked in. They passed each other when Stephens "suddenly turned and fired into Miller's back with (his) Colt .38." Miller turned "so that he faced (Bud) and began to crumple before he dropped to the floor."  Stephens fired two more shots which left Miller prostrate, face down. Then "Stephens continued to pump lead into the man's back until his gun was emptied."

As the shooting started, Joe Stephens was heard to say: "Stay with the son-of-a-bitch!" Bud then stepped out the door, and his father encouraged him, yelling in a loud voice: Keep shooting, kid, god dammit, keep shooting!" Bud took time to reload and fired two more bullets into Miller before the body lied limp. Then his father called out asking "Did you get the dirty...?" (the paper only offered blank lines.)  He then leaned over and told his son: "Well, this son-of-a-bitch got exactly what was coming to him--Come on Bud, let's go over to the sheriff's office."

In speaking of the killing the next day, Mrs. Stephens said: "I am to blame--No, not me. It was that god-damned son of a bitch, Joe Stephens." She then told her friend, Mrs. Anderson, "that Mr. Miller was a gentleman in every way and also that she was going to get a divorce from her husband."

The complete story of the lost and forgotten history of the Yavapai County Courthouse and its construction.

The Trial:
"The trial of this sensational homicide case is attracting quite a large crowd to the courtroom," the paper reported, "and standing room was at a premium. The bailiff was kept busy shooing people away who persisted in blocking up the main entrance to the place." Most of the audience in the 3 rows of seating were women. There were 68 of the fairer sex jammed into the courtroom at one point.

The Courthouse's first murder trial would also pit two of Yavapai county's best attorneys against one another. Joe Stephens hired PW O'Sullivan, while the county attorney tapped ES Clark to be Special Deputy Prosecutor.

O'Sullivan described the defense's case in his opening statement:
"This defendant was temporarily insane at the time he killed Bob Miller... Miller, you must remember, had been paying attentions to Mrs. Stephens for many months, and so bold had become his conduct that his actions were exciting the comment not only of the friends and neighbors, but the other members of the family as well." 
"At the time of the homicide," O'Sullivan continued, "young Brad was in the heat of passion, sick at heart and distressed, and when he met Miller on the fatal afternoon he shot the man before he had time to collect his wits and cool down a bit." 
O'Sullivan also took the opportunity to impugn the character of the deceased: "Miller...had an unenviable record in his home state of Idaho... He had seduced a girl and had to skip out of the state..."

On the stand, Joe Stephens admitted that he employed Miller at his ranch. "That didn't hurt him as a worker," Stephens said.

Attorney ES Clark reminded Joe about an instance a year prior when Joe "found Mrs. Stephens cooking for some of the boys." The attorney asked:
"You testified that you didn't like to have Mrs. Stephens paying more attention to Miller than to you, Did you not?'"
"I don't think I said that," was the reply.
"You must of thought that Mrs. Stephens was infatuated with Miller at the time."
"I don't know. I thought Miller was infatuated with her."
"You continued to think so?"
"I think so yet.
Joe Stephens further testified that he visited his wife the morning of the killing to get her to come home. "I know I haven't treated you right," he told her, "we know what Miller has done to you. We know it all." But she replied: "No, I've quit you for good." 

Sheriff Joe Young's testimony revealed that Miller told the sheriff that he had spent the night at the St. Michael Annex hotel. However, "inquiry there...had brought out the fact that the landlady...had not rented any rooms" that night. Young further testified that when he visited Mrs. Stephens at the Golden Eagle, he told her that her husband and son were willing to forgive everything. 
"THEY would forgive HER?" Clark asked in disbelief.
"Yes" was the sheriff's reply. 
When Sid Marks testified about the incident of Joe and Bud stopping Marlow's car, Joe Stephens lost control. When Marks said that after Mrs. Stephens denied infidelity, and Bud told his mother "You know you have;" Joe Stephens burst out: "That's a god-damned lie!" He was cited as being in contempt of court and spent the rest of the afternoon in jail.

The defendant, Bud Stephens, took the stand. Trying to grasp at a temporary insanity defense, Bud testified that "he had but faint recollection of the affair, that he was terribly remorseful for what he had done, but that he believed that the killing of Miller was the only thing which could prevent a break-up of the home."

"During the time (Bud) was being examined by his counsel, PW O'Sullivan, he retained his composure to a wonderful degree, answering all questions put to him in a firm tone and telling a story which was calculated to go straight to the hearts of the listening jurymen, but at the close of the session, after he had been under the grilling fire of the cross-examination of Special Prosecutor ES Clark, he left the witness box in a highly nervous state, and during the last hour of the cross-examination seemed to have not a little difficulty extracting himself from the verbal pitfalls into which the prosecutor led him."

Under the tough cross-examination, Bud was forced to admit "that the domestic felicity of the Stephens home was not the best in the world and that as a matter of fact much wrangling had taken place there between Mr. and Mrs. Stephens, his parents." The boy was also forced to admit on the stand that "drunkenness was no uncommon thing at the Stephens' ranch."

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Then Bud's mother took the stand. Within a week after Miller's death, she had moved back into the Stephens' home. She now told a tale of household perfection--even after Bud's admissions to the contrary! There had been no drinking, swearing, or quarrels ever--according to her now.

She now claimed that Miller was trying to steal her away; that he planned to take her to Idaho via the 11 o'clock train and elope with her.

When cross-examined, ES Clark tested her as to why she did not tell this to anyone sooner:
"Was it not because in your maternal devotion to Bud you were willing to sacrifice yourself, even to the extent of losing your good name?"
"No. It was because I considered that I had it coming to me."
"You were entirely willing were you not to let him use you as an excuse for his killing of Miller?"
There was no answer. 
"You were willing to tell any story, were you not, even though it blackened your reputation, if it helped him escape punishment?"
Again there was no answer. 
"Did you ever imagine prior to this killing that your husband and son would be willing to sacrifice your reputation to save themselves?"
"I did not."
Did you not say in the presence of Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Young that when Stephens was abusing you and using vile language, that Miller had taken your part?"
She denied saying it.
"Do you remember how, when your husband told you about the girl Miller was implicated in Idaho, you said that Miller was a better man than he even at that?"
She replied that she didn't mean it. 
It seemed obvious that Mrs. Stephens had been completely sucked back into her "perfect hell."

Then Special Prosecutor Clark called a surprise witness. It was none other than the highly-respected, former Yavapai County Sheriff, George Ruffner.

Ruffner testified that Bud threatened to kill Miller the Monday prior. "I am going to kill Miller," said Bud to me after we were seated at the table. I told the boy that he would have to cut out such rough talk while he was around me, and upon his refusal to cease making such remarks, I got up and left the place, as I did not want to listen to anymore such talk."

Ruffner dropped another bombshell when he testified that father Joe confided in him that he "believed there was nothing wrong between his wife and Miller because Mrs. (Stephens) had been without passion of any sort since the birth of her son 22 years ago."

In closing arguments, prosecution pointed out the discrepancies in the testimony between the Stephens family and law enforcement officers. Defense promised that if Bud were "acquitted, he will enter the army and will there get the discipline which has been so sadly lacking in his life up to the present time."

"Gentlemen of the jury," O'Sullivan said, "let this boy go free so that any signs which may be charged against him may be vindicated on the battlefields of France."

The jury received their instructions and retired. It took two ballots to find Bud guilty and two ballots to sentence him to life. The entire exercise took them less than a half-hour.

When the verdict was delivered, Bud was stunned and showed extreme nervousness. When he first faced the bars of the jail, tears began to stream down his face. But Bud's father would make sure that he wouldn't stay there long...

In his closing argument, ES Clark prognosticated that Bud "probably reasoned that in the event he was convicted...and by reason of of his father's wealth and power,... he would appeal the case and fight off the execution of the court's sentence until such time as the war would be over and then he would not have to go." This is precisely what happened.

More than that, O'Sullivan got a new trial due to the fact that jury instructions did not include the possibility of a second degree charge. Further, jurisdiction was moved to Coconino county and Flagstaff. Bud was allowed out on the appeal and a hefty $50,000 bail.

In the second trial there were no surprises and PW O'Sullivan was ready. It took the jury merely 45 minutes to find Bud NOT guilty! "Pray God! Oh! My boy!" Joe Stephens exclaimed.

In the end, things could not have gone better for Bud. With the homicide he committed, he successfully obtained all the results his boyish heart desired.

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Weekly Journal-Miner; 4/24/1918. Pg. 4, Col. 3.
Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/24/1918. Pg. 4, Col. 3.
Weekly Journal-Miner; 4/10/1918. Pg. 1, Cols. 2-3.
Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/24/1918. Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/24/1918. Pg. 5, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/17/1918. Pg. 1, Col. 1. (cont'd pg. 2)
Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/24/1918. Pg. 3, Cols. 1-2.
Bisbee Daily Review; 7/3/1919. Pg. 1, Col. 6.

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