March 22, 2020

The Tragic Tale of the Piper Family UPDATED

Miss Niles was a night nurse at Mercy Hospital and was working her rounds one Sunday evening, when she started up the main staircase. The stairway hugged the walls like a spiraling square donut with an hollow space in the middle. As she ascended, her peripheral vision caught an object falling through the center void followed by an echoing thud on the basement's concrete floor. She rushed to the bottom to see what it was. 

Immediately the Sister in charge would be called to offer guidance… 

Like many before him, Joseph Piper brought his young wife and son, and his mother-in-law to Prescott in hopes that his tuberculosis would improve. Instead, the disease would destroy his family.

Joseph was originally from Oklahoma and had parents living in Kansas. He was a newspaperman by trade and did a small amount of work at the Journal-Miner after he arrived in Prescott from Phoenix September 1, 1918.

Soon, however, he was forced to stay at home as his condition grew worse. Then, a mere 5 weeks after his arrival in Prescott, his situation became acute. The doctor was called in on October 6 and Joseph was told that the tuberculosis had turned into pneumonia and he would have to check into Mercy Hospital in the morning.

Joseph was distraught. He knew that he was dying. Although his fate was left unspoken, his young 24 year-old wife, Grace, knew it as well. Her health was also failing. Joseph and Grace “discussed the matter after the physician had left, and at about 10 o'clock (Joseph) told his wife that he heard a noise on the back porch and that some prowler might be on the premises,” the paper related. “He got his six-shooter and went to the back part of the house. A few seconds later a shot was fired and his wife found the husband laying on the floor of the bathroom with his life extinct.” 

Grace was horrified, but understood that her husband did not want to go through the agony of a slow death by his lungs filling with fluid and infection. A funeral service was held once Joseph’s father arrived in Prescott.

The early life of child actress Virginia Lee Corbin (1910-1941) who was born in Prescott, AZ.

Unfortunately, Grace also was stricken with tuberculosis and her condition was not much better than her husband’s. Just after Joseph’s funeral, Grace found herself at Mercy Hospital with an advanced stage of pneumonia herself. Depressed and distraught over the fate of her husband and now herself, she went to the top of the hospital’s main stairway on the third floor, took a shallow breath, and dove over the railing head first.

The night nurse, “Miss Niles saw the white clad figure flash pass her as she started to ascend the stairway,” the paper reported. “She made her way to the basement and found that the bleeding form was that of (Grace) Piper. 

“The Sister in charge was called and the unfortunate young lady was removed to a bed on the main floor. Apparently no bones were broken in the fall, the only wound being a slight abrasion in the center of the top of the head. The woman bled quite profusely, and her death may have been due to an internal hemorrhage or a blood clot which formed on the brain.” It took 90 minutes for her to pass away after the fall. 

What was left was a toddler, aged about 3, as the sole heir of a $5000 life insurance policy and about $700 in other assets. The young boy, named George Dennis Piper, was put into the care of his maternal grandmother Alice Tupman.

However, young Georgie’s trials would continue as his two grandmothers fought for his custody in the Prescott Superior Court. His paternal grandma, Mary E Piper, although estranged from the boy’s grandfather, was worth between $75,000 and $100,000 (or around $1 million today.) 

“Grandma Tupman admitted freely that she was a mighty poor woman,” the paper reported. “Her little home is supported by what scant wages she can earn, the income from a flock of chickens and the fancy work done by her crippled daughter.

“There is but little money in Mrs. Tupman's bank account. She has two grown sons, one a carpenter and one a barber and both are married but childless. They have offered their mother any assistance she may need, she declared.”

Georgie’s "testimony" involved his appearance under Grandma Tupman’s care. "His little blue serge suit was neat and his linen clean and of good quality. He had every appearance of an idolized grandson." the paper noted.

To the Pipers, the choice seemed clear. They had the resources on hand to make sure that young Georgie would get the very best things in life. However, Judge Sweeney was concerned when it was revealed that Grandma Piper did not even inquire about the young boy until 10 months after he was orphaned.

“There was everything to show that both the elderly ladies wanted to lavish their love on the little fellow,” the paper noted. 

“When the court announced that (Mrs. Piper's) petition would be denied and the appointment of Mrs. Tupman confirmed, neither Mrs. Piper nor her daughter sent a glance toward the boy as they hurriedly gathered their things and left the courtroom," the paper said. 

Georgie grew up in his Grandma Tupman’s “little home in East Prescott, where he lived surrounded by what neighbors testified were good Christian home influences.” 

Researcher Lynda Pendley Bennett was inspired by this article to do some genealogy facts that tell "the rest of the story." Thank you Lynda!

The two "grown sons" that had offered to help support her that Grandma Tupman spoke of when fighting for custody of George were Tazwell Tupman (the carpenter) and James Edward Tupman (the barber). The "crippled daughter" who helped earn income with her fancy work was Mary Tupman, who sadly died in the state mental hospital in 1938. I suspect there was no one left to care for her when her mother died in 1930. Young George, who would have been about 14 when his grandmother died went to Denver, Colorado to live with his father's sister, "Aunt Nettie". He attended four years of college and became a teacher before joining the service shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. (His enlistment papers say he 5'8" and weighed 128 lbs ). In July of 1944 he was in a VA hospital for about a month with "Sandfly fever". (i fever) which tells me he probably had served somewhere around the Mediterranean. or India. He died 17 Apr 1970 in a VA hospital in California. at the age of 53.


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/23/1918; Pg. 1, Col. 5
Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/9/1918; Pg. 6, Col. 5
Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/28/1920; Pg. 3, Col. 1-2
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/13/1918; Pg. 3, Col. 4
Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/30/1918; Pg. 2, Col. 7

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