I have been furiously writing for 3 days now. A friend asked me to post a podcast link which I gave her and now I will post that link here. This podcast is 10 episodes long and it is focused on all of the characters in the Frank Little murder. https://deathinthewestpod.com/
After listening to this a bit, you can see how easy it is to become distracted by all of the theories, the allegations, the false leads, conjecture, and gossip. I call this white noise. I first encountered these distractions while reading newspaper accounts wherein newspapers actually named suspects as though they had direct access to the best witnesses and knew for a fact- who the bad guys were. Today they would be sued for defamation.
The biographer of Frank Little, is Frank Little's great grandniece, Jane Botkin Little. In addition to being a fantastic writer and researcher, Jane probably knows more about Frank Little than anyone on the planet. In 2016, Jane and I had mutual friends in Butte that introduced her to me and told me that she would be in Butte the following year. Jane they told me, would be in town for the 100th anniversary of Frank Little's murder. I could not wait to meet her. I was not disappointed. I went to a book reading of Jane's. We attended a graveside service at Frank's grave on August 1 where the UWW or Wobblies read and sang a bit.
While talking to Jane in 2017, I realized something I had never considered. Jane wasn't really interested in identifying Frank's killers. This gave me great pause and baffled me a bit. Her explanation for that can be found in the opening lines of podcast number 10. It is perfectly rational.
I am in podcast number 8 at the 32-minute mark. I had been somewhat reluctant to turn over all of the evidence that I had found. Of course, it is all circumstantial, but it was the body of all my work. Eventually, I emailed the podcast about the car. I found the car that was used in the kidnapping to be quite fascinating, all by itself. The podcast investigators turned that stone for me and we struck gold.
I would like to say that I am no Columbo. I am not the best detective. All I came to this party with is a morbid fascination with the crime from the moment I stood on that black and white floor where Jere Murphy was killed. What I do have is police insight. I would like to use that here.
Today, I am confident that Frank Little's murder would have been solved in 48 hours or less by honest cops that weren't involved in the killing. There always was an overwhelming amount of evidentiary leads to sift through even back in 1917.
Searching for the Best Evidence
Montana began registering automobiles around 1912. Two witnesses across the street from the boarding house that night identified the suspect's car as a late model, black Cadillac. The suspects wore costume masks. The driver stayed with the car which remained running. How many Cadillacs were registered in Butte at that time? The old records were stored in Deer Lodge.
The podcast folks uncovered 100 of them. Most importantly, a total of 5 of them were registered to either the Anaconda Company, the Company's head of security, Degay Stivers and Roy Alley. The last Cadillac was registered to Alex Wazell. Alex was a limo driver by trade. These 3 "persons of interest" were all included in my suspect pool.
L.O. Evans was a company attorney who met with Montana Attorney General, Burton K Wheeler. That face to face meeting occurred less than 24 hours before Frank Little was killed. In that meeting at the Anaconda Company Office in the Hennessey Building, Evans implored Wheeler to arrest Frank Little. Wheeler told Evans that Little had not broken the law and that he would not seek Little's arrest.
Also on the day of the murder, armed men including Jere Murphy were seen at a meeting in the Finlen Hotel. The Finlen Hotel was located 1 block south from Frank Little's boarding house at Broadway and Wyoming St.
We have two other huge leads to pursue. Norah Byrne saw 5 men with costume masks on. One fitting the description of Morrissey brandishing a police revolver. Morrissey was either serving a suspension from the Butte Police Department and had taken several weeks off just after the murder. No statement was ever taken from Morrissey who was in all likelihood, working for the Company.
Lastly, where do you buy 6 costume masks? How come nobody in the Butte Police Department ever contacted area merchants to find out whether 6 masks had recently been purchased? July in Butte is not exactly the heart of masquerade season.
I needed to see the work that had been done by Butte PD. I put in a call to the Silver Bow Sheriff who now polices Butte. He never returned the call.
The Coroner's Inquest/Jury
In the days after the murder, some 17 witnesses were called to a Coroner's Jury or Magistrate's Inquiry. I am not sure of the exact term in Montana. But the purpose is the same. The collection of eyewitness testimony and evidence.
This particular proceeding included three jurors who evaluated the evidence. Unbelievable as it may seem, one of the jurors was a Butte detective who worked with Edward Morrissey. He was sitting in on the proceedings. His name was Lt. Dwyer.
Suddenly all of the witnesses called in this case developed amnesia. One by one, the evidence they had given to police initially before any of them suspected the police, suddenly became murky and forgotten. They could not remember details.
Not only was Dwyer seated on that jury, but I believe he showed up at the boardinghouse and later at the hanging scene. He is listed in the Butte archives which has a cover sheet of witnesses and jurors that served on that jury. He would have worked directly under Edward Morrissey.
It was an accident that I uncovered him at all. Butte police had their hands into everything Frank Little.
The transcript of the proceedings went missing from the courthouse. They were transcribed by hand.
It should be interesting to note, that when I started policing in the early 80s, we had keys to virtually every business and school. We had keys to the courthouse, and we had the codes to disable the alarms. It's not a stretch of the imagination by any means, that the police may have accessed the courthouse days after the proceedings, stole the transcript, and destroyed it.
I had always wondered if the transcript might have been copied and given to Burton Wheeler in Helena. Wheeler demanded an investigation into this. Wouldn't it be funny to find the transcript in some old courthouse basement in Helena? Maybe in Burton Wheeler's things inherited by some grandchild of his.
I have always considered that transcript- the holy grail of this case. What I wouldn't give to read it.
The Trestle, Body, Note, and Evidence Left at the Scene
I often wonder why Frank Little was killed the way that he was killed. We know the ringleader of the goon squad had a revolver. Why didn't they just shoot him?
There are two very good reasons for this. If you just shoot Frank Little, nothing really comes of it. No purpose is served. He's just another assassinated murder victim.
That's not what this crew was after. They wanted a public display. They wanted to kill Frank Little in the most tortured, painful, public way possible. They wanted to stop union organizing, they wanted to put an end to strike meetings, and they wanted to let people know that they might be next.
So why not just hang him? Why drag his body over the rough hewn granite streets? Why beat him in the head?
To me, this suggests that this murder was personal. They hated Little. They wanted to inflict as much cruelty and pain as they possibly could. Frank Little caused fights, arguments, swollen crowds of angry miners, he threatened anyone who owned stock in the Company. The Butte Police were already proven to be Company stooges in a revolving Company, Butte Police, Company revolving door. They saw Frank as a criminal, largely responsible for the riots, fights, and arrest reports they must have had to do. They saw Frank as a seditious outlaw and traitor. In fact, I think that some of them believed killing Frank was the right thing to do.
There was so much evidence. There were tire tracks and footprints. The rope and the knots. Bloody clothing. The cast on Frank's leg had been tore off and was laying on the ground.
But the biggest piece of evidence, without a doubt, was the note pinned on Frank's leg.
In 1917, collecting and evaluating forensic evidence was in it's infancy. Photography was also. Cops could sketch or cast footprints and tire tracks. That was a huge deal all by itself. Quite possibly, had the cops began looking at all the tires on black Cadillacs- they would probably have found a match.
Shoes might have helped identify a driver or someone at the scene.
But the handwriting on that note is unique and bizarre. The reference to the Vigilantes was a huge deal. Did these guys really think they had to take the law into their own hands just as the Vigilantes had some 50 years earlier? Perhaps. With no other way to stop Frank, and the Montana Attorney General refusing to prosecute him, they were forced to use the last resort.
It is a ridiculous idea that Frank was on some par with the likes of robber and road agent, Henry Plummer and his gang. But Frank's killers chose to kill him in similar fashion complete with advance warning notices.
A couple of years later I stumbled onto another connection. The Montana Vigilantes had their roots in Virginia City and Bannack. That was where Henry Plummer did most of his dirty work. There was a subsequent faction of Vigilantes working in Helena. Both venues are only 60-70 miles away. One of the mine superintendents in Butte was a man named John Berkin. Berkin's father was one of the pioneers of the state of Montana and he had been involved to some extent with the Vigilantes. John Berkin of Butte had connections with many of the police officers and was very active in a local gun club that many of them frequented.
Was Berkin involved in the killing? I don't know. But the Berkin connection is a very interesting one and might have been where Frank's killers got the idea of using Vigilante justice. Perhaps they developed it on their own. It's a rabbit hole I have never fully explored but I do believe there is a connection.
There was a tremendous amount of evidence and investigatory leads available to the Butte Police Department that were never followed or acted upon.
You simply can't escape it. It is what they didn't do that screams out to me.
This is a police department, clearly corrupted and compromised by the Anaconda Company, from the top clear on down to the patrolmen.
The officers in any police department do not operate in an isolated vacuum. Most police officers are fully aware of everything taking place within the department. Cops gossip. That's what they do. To survive in that sort of compromised environment means you either join them, shut up, or leave.
Jere Murphy became the Chief of Police and stayed the Chief of Police because he knew where the power was. It was the Company. If you wanted to continue to be the Chief of Police then you were going to have to do what the Company wanted you to do. Jere chose his side. I believe Murphy's presence in the Finlen Hotel, three hundred feet from Frank's boardinghouse on the same day/night that he was murdered, speaks volumes.
Epilogue to follow.