100 Years Ago Today: Murderer Ends His Life in Prison

Moffat County Courier, March 13, 1919

The tragedy of Celina Haberl reached its conclusion when her murderer, Richard H. Baugh, ended his own life by hanging himself in his jail cell in the Canon City State Penitentiary.

Miss Haberl was just 21-years-old when Baugh shot her to death on June 7, 1918. She and her sister had been visiting their grandmother when they got off their streetcar and Baugh snuck up on them from an alley, saying to Celina Haberl, “you don’t have to run, Ethel.” Police reports reveal that he’d been stalking the woman in the neighborhood the last two nights. Baugh killed Haberl with a gunshot to the head, and then Baugh attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. He later recovered in the hospital.

Apparently, Richard Baugh mistook Celina Haberl for Ethel Lane, who he said wronged him, according to a conversation he had with Police Chief, Hamilton Armstrong, in the hospital. The Police Chief informed Baugh, “you got the wrong girl.” Side note: remember when a lunatic threatened to cut off Chief Armstrong’s head and send it to Governor Shoup?

One confusing complication to the story is that today’s article refers to Baugh as a “blind convict.” Does this explain why he mistook Celina Haberl for Ethel Lane? But how would he be able to identify her in the first place, let alone shoot her? Or, did the attempted suicide after her murder cause his blindness? Baugh’s blindness is not mentioned until reports of his trial, when he is referred to as “blinded in both eyes,” and his expression at his sentence is described as “immobile.”

In September of 1918, Baugh was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. He took his own life on January 20th, 1919, although the story didn’t make it to the Moffat County Courier until March 13, 1919.

100 Years Ago Today: Murder-Suicide at Tolland Station

Oak Creek Times, March 7, 1919

More tragedy on the old Moffat Road this week. On January 29th it was a boiler explosion on the hoodoo Engine No. 100 near Dixie Lake that killed two coworkers. Today it’s a murder suicide at the Tolland railroad station of the Denver Northwest & Pacific that left two friends dead.

In 1919, Tolland was the last railway stop before the big climb on the Moffat Road known as Giant’s Ladder, which topped out at the Continental Divide. The town is in a valley along the S. Boulder Creek, surrounded by mountains, with the crown of them, 13er James Peak, visible in the distance.

James Peak as seen from Tolland, CO with the railroad station on the right
Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Department

Tolland was previously called Mammoth in its pre-railroad days, when it was a mining community and a wagon stage stop. The name changed when an attorney, Charles Hansen Toll, bought the land in 1893 for $1,000, renaming the town after his wife’s ancestral home of Tolland, England. Toll died in 1901, leaving the land to his wife, Katherine, who saw an investment opportunity when the DNW&P railroad came through in 1904. She and her children platted the land and sold off parcels.

Toll Inn, in Tolland, CO, burned down c.1910
Originally called the Mariposa Inn

Tolland had a year-round population of 250 in 1919, many of whom, like our soon-to-be-dead, W. H. “Shorty” Allen and James Carton, worked for the railroad. Commuter trains allowed for seasonal residents as well as day-trippers from Denver to come up to the cool and scenic Tolland at 8,900′, and the town grew a reputation for being a resort town. Tolland had shops, a dance pavilion, picnic shelters, saloons (until Colorado Prohibition in 1916), hotels, and the University of Colorado even built a Mountain Laboratory of Field Biology aka the “Bug House” in 1909.

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Tolland circa 1900

But March is not tourist season. It’s cold season. And by the end of the day on March 6, 1919, two bodies would be very cold indeed. Shorty Allen and James Carton were both from Colorado Springs, and by other accounts were intimate friends. They had worked together in Tolland for the past six months. They were bunkmates, coworkers, and bachelors. I imagine them spending a lot of their time together. Maybe a bit too much time in the end.

Tolland Depot, rebuilt brick by brick from a Denver station
Giant’s Ladder railroad cuts in the background

The trouble between the men started over wash day duties, of all things. It’s unclear whether we’re talking clothes washing or house cleaning/washing. Regardless, Shorty Allen got mad at his friend, James Carton, because he thought Carton had shirked water carrying duties the previous week, and this week Carton was using too much water, which he didn’t have to carry. Every week, you see, the other one had to carry the water back to the railroad car where they bunked.

Allen got so mad over spilled milk…err…water that he picked up a broadaxe that had been sharpened to a razor’s edge and when Carton was bent over, he plunged the axe into Carton’s back, which severed his spinal cord and sunk into his lung. Carton fell to the floor and quickly bled to death.

Two other coworkers, Frank Hullenback and H. H. Wilson, who were also on the Moffat Railroad Bridge and Building Crew, witnessed the gruesome murder and ran out to tell others what happened. While they were gone, Allen, crying over what he’d done, took his .22 caliber rifle, and shot himself in the head, falling down dead over his friend’s body.

Tolland, Colorado in 1926
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Restored Tolland School House, today

100 Years Ago Today: Wealthy Rancher Murdered, Buried Under Manure

Wray Rattler, February 27, 1919

John Breuss went missing from his Silt, Colorado ranch home on November 18, 1918. By late December of that year, Sheriff Charles W. Fravert of Garfield County, on suspicion that Breuss was dead, offered a $250 reward for the recovery of Breuss’ body, and another $250 for any information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators of the alleged murder.

Fun facts about Sheriff Fravert: he was a German-born immigrant who listed his occupation at various stages of his life as Coal Miner, Sheriff, Woolgrower, Contractor, Driver, Live Stock, Stockman, Ice House Owner, and Shop Raiser. Fravert Reservoir and Fravert Avenue, near Rifle, CO, are named after the late Sheriff. 

Breuss was known as one of the wealthiest ranchers in Garfield County at the time, and his murder made newspaper headlines. However, police were not making any headway in the case until a local Glenwood Springs jeweler named Tom Dever stepped in and cracked it wide open.

Dever had been asked to repair a 21-jewel Hamilton movement watch by Joe Sessions. When Sessions came to pick up the watch, Dever questioned him about its origin. Sessions told Dever that when he was working down in Silt, he traded Cruz(e) Romero a watch and a pair of gloves for the jeweled Hamilton watch. Hamilton watches were renown as ‘The Watch of Railroad Accuracy’, and they were famous for being the official wristwatch of the U.S. Army, as well as being used in the first ever American airmail service between Washington D.C. and New York.

Hamilton Movement Watches

The jeweler, Dever, suddenly realized that he had worked on the watch before. He checked his records and saw that he’d repaired it for the now-missing John Breuss in 1914. Dever and Sessions took the information to Sheriff Fravert who arrested Cruz Romero and his former roommate and coworker, Lee Martinez, the very next day.

Hamilton watch from 1919 being sold on ebay in 2019 for $895

Sheriff Fravert then rounded up Lee Martinez’s brother, Tonio, from Monte Vista, CO, and questioned the three suspects. The Sheriff had also gathered information that Lee Martinez’s young son was telling people that his father did not kill Breuss, but rather it was Cruz Romero who beat the 58-year-old rancher to death. During questioning, Fravert and Deputy W. G. Cardnell sweated Lee Martinez until he cracked. Martinez revealed that Romero killed Breuss and they buried the rancher beneath a pile of manure near his barn.

Sheriff Fravert and Deputy Cardnell then went out the Silt ranch and found Breuss’ badly decomposed body right where Martinez said, buried beneath four feet of manure. The body was brought to a coroner’s jury which ruled that Breuss was killed by Romero and the Martinez brothers.

Romero confessed that he had beaten Breuss to death, but he said he only did it out of self-defense after a fight over a horse trade. Lee Martinez admitted to helping Romero bury the body with manure. On March 8, 1919, Cruz Romero was found guilty and sentenced to death for the killing of John Breuss. Lee Martinez (whose suname in some articles is Martini), was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murder. There is no mention of his brother, Tonio.

In June of 1919, Cruz Romero was given a 30-day stay of execution while Governor Shoup reviewed his case. Then, in August of the same year, Shoup commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

100 Years Ago Today: Lunatic Threatens to Cut Off Police Chief’s Head

Herald Democrat, February 14, 1919

Governor Oliver H. Shoup (shoop ba-doop) was elected the 22nd governor of Colorado in November, 1918, and he was already receiving death threats by February, 1919. “Lunatics” weren’t wasting any time. Granted, Shoup’s own head was not under threat but that of a proxy, Hamilton Armstrong, long-serving Denver Chief of Police. Neither Shoup nor Armstrong were harmed by the unknown letter writer. Both men died years later of heart attacks.

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Governor Oliver H. Shoup

Chief of Police, Hamilton Armstrong, with head firmly attached to shoulders

The letter this “lunatic” sent was oddly signed. The writer drew a person’s left hand and wrote “one hundred and fifty White Caps” on the hand. Originating in the mid-1800s, “whitecapping” was the crime of threatening a person with violence in order to influence their behavior. White Cap societies were anonymous groups that used whitecapping to intimidate people. This letter writer supposedly had a group of 150 people behind their threat. In the 1920s, the KKK, wearing literal white caps, became the most notorious and influential of these groups in Colorado.

An article from Montrose Daily Press from the same day describes the letter as a “black hand threat.” The phrase “black hand threat” has its roots in Italian-American extortion rackets, for gangsters and mafia members would send letters threatening their target, often signing it at the end with a drawing of a hand. A film about the origins of the Mafia, called The Black Hand, starring Leo DiCaprio, is currently in the works.

Montrose Daily Press, February 14, 1919

Another interesting piece of the whitecapping letter: the writer disavows themselves from the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World), but claims, “there is some power behind us.” Newspapers at this time often lumped together the I.W.W., Bolsheviks, and Anarchists together as violent, dangerous, anti-American organizations, despite the fact that none of these groups agreed with each other, and most members of these groups detested violence. Regardless, I’d love to know why the writer wanted his target to know the I.W.W. had nothing to do with the threat.

A bit more about Governor Shoup: he served as governor for two terms, from 1919 – 1923, but he declined to run for a third term. He is best known for opening the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which runs beneath James Peak (13,301′ high). Moffat Tunnel opened the Middle Park area up to a more reliable Denver supply line, and it provided Denver residents with a faster way to get to Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. Shoup helped create the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District that sold bonds backed by real estate taxes, which funded the tunnel.

Gov. Shoup at the Moffat Tunnel East Portal Opening Day
Denver Public Library, Western History Dept

Before being elected governor, Shoup attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He left college to pursue business ventures in banking as well as oil, and he was the first president of the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company. During his political career as governor, he oversaw the creation of the State Highway Department and a restructuring of the Colorado National Guard. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

Denver Police and Fire Chiefs. Chief of Police Armstrong circled.
Gov. Shoup signs ratification of 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote
President Wilson with Gov. Shoup leaving Brown Palace in Denver

100 Years Ago Today: Mabel Normand, Silent Film Comedy Star

Fort Collins Courier, February 12, 1919
The old Lyric Theater in Fort Collins, 1915

Last night I was watching an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where a male booking agent meets the comedian he hired, Midge Maisel, for the first time. She’s wearing a black evening dress. Her hair is fabulous. She looks gorgeous. He immediately dismisses her, saying she doesn’t look funny. He’d only booked her because he saw a fake picture of her that was actually Mamie Eisenhower. The President’s wife, apparently, looks like she’s funny.

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), left. Mamie Eisenhower, right

Today’s article is basically selling silent film comedy legend, Mabel Normand, as Mamie Eisenhower. The article seems to say, “Isn’t she funny? She has funny socks! Many kinds of funny socks!” The author posits that that Normand herself thinks the “eccentric stockings” will be “responsible for the success everyone feels she will achieve” in her title role as Sis Hopkins. I don’t buy it.

Sis Hopkins movie poster featuring those eccentric stockings

Mabel Normand did not need a “mascot” to make her successful and funny. Normand starred in at least 190 films in her lifetime between shorts and feature lengths. She wrote for and directed Charlie Chaplin, who was notoriously hard to manage. She was a writer and a film producer who started her own production company. Heck, she may have been the first actor to perform the classic pie-in-the-face gag, hitting Roscoe Arbuckle in the mug. In 1918, she starred in the largest grossing film of the year, Mickey, which made $8 million.

In 1919, Mabel Normand was one of the most popular movie stars in the world. In addition to working with Chaplin and Arbuckle, she worked with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and director D. W. Griffith. She had just left her long-time professional and romantic partner, Mack Sennett, and started working with Samuel Goldwyn, with whom she would have a rocky personal relationship but successful professional career for the next few years.

Advertisement in Moving Picture World for the film Sis Hopkins (1919) with Mabel Normand

Sadly, Mabel Normand’s life would soon be complicated by numerous scandals and declining health due to tuberculosis and alcohol abuse. Between 1921-1922, her costar, Roscoe Arbuckle, was tried three times for the rape and murder of actress Virginia Rappe. He was finally found not guilty, but his films were blacklisted, which means many of her films were blacklisted, since she was his co-star.

Then, her close friend, director William Desmond Taylor, was murdered on Feb 1st, 1922, and she was the last person to see him alive. She was questioned and ruled out as a suspect, but the scandal tarnished her reputation. Two years later, Normand’s chauffeur, Joe Kelly, shot and wounded millionaire oil broker, Courtland Dines, with her gun. She starred in a few more films in the 1920s, but her popularity faded quickly due to these scandals.

Normand was known as a heavy drinker and there were rumors that she had a cocaine addiction, though the latter has been rebutted by her family. She contracted tuberculosis as a child, but it wasn’t until her 30s that her health seriously declined because of it. On Feb 23rd, 1930, she died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 37.

Mabel Normand

Sis Hopkins plot synopsis from Turner Classic Movies:

Coarse country girl Sis Hopkins and general store clerk Ridy Scarboro are so engrossed in their dalliance that a basket is overturned and a large can of oil spills into a pool, creating a slow leak. Wealthy villager Vibert thus becomes convinced that Sis’s farm is located on a pocket of oil, and he schemes to gain control of the property by marrying Sis. Vibert sends her to a young woman’s seminary for refinement. Sis creates chaos in the school and is a problem for principal Miss Peckover. Vibert eventually realizes Sis will never measure up to his standards for a wife. Ridy, who has been jealous, is overjoyed when Sis returns home. Vibert entices Pa Hopkins into selling the property for a small amount, but Sis shrewdly succeeds in tripling the price. Finally Vibert discovers the can in which he has invested so heavily.

Turner Classic Movies

100 Years Ago Today: Small Son Tells How Father Killed Mother

Herald Democrat, January 28, 1919

Let’s fill out some key points to this terrible story. On December 2, 1918, 34-year-old Pearl(e) Centers, plow factory worker, father of nine-year-old Raymond Centers and former husband of now-deceased Daisy Myrtal Centers (34), killed his wife because she refused to reconcile their recent divorce, aka she wouldn’t take his sorry ass back (Sings: Try to control me, boy, you get dismissed). He testified in court that he also tried to shoot himself in the head. It seems he was not successful.

I’m not sure why the accused is not named specifically in this short, tragic news article, but I found a follow up article also from the Herald Democrat that ran the next day, which brought forth more details about the attempted murder/suicide.

There were only two witnesses for the prosecution, Daisy’s brother, Leonard Shields, and their star witness, her son, Raymond. Pearl Centers took the stand to defend himself in court, testifying that his son’s story was true: he shot his wife and then shot himself.

The jury took four hours to arrive at a guilty verdict, sentencing Mr. Centers to life imprisonment for first degree murder. They did, however, need to grapple with the following piece of confusing testimony from Pearl himself.

Herald Democrat, January 29, 1919

Is he saying he pulled out the gun, tried to kill himself, and then his wife grabbed the gun and accidentally shot herself? Or did he take the first shot to the head, and then kill her? How is this confirming your son’s story? And bruh, your son is asleep in the bed, right there next to your wife, WTF?

San Juan Prospector, February 7, 1919

As of the 1940 census, Pearl Centers was still incarcerated at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, as he had been since 1919.

100 years ago today, Pearl Centers was tried and convicted of first degree murder for killing his wife, Daisy, while his young son, Raymond, slept next to her (and her brother was in the kitchen), and then he tried and failed to kill himself, but instead he spent the rest of his life in prison.