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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Two Lives for Five Dollars - Conclusion
This is a guest post from an excellent author. It is a true story, originally published in 2009. It is quite a long piece for a blog and is a four part series, which I will post on consecutive evenings. At the conclusion, you will want to see more of her work and I will link you up and publicize her site. Enjoy!

That's right — a Last-Minute Reprieve. If this were fiction, you'd be rolling your eyes at the cliché. But sometimes reality is cliché and vice versa, and Governor McNutt really did decide, just before midnight, to grant Richard another 30 days to come up with new evidence.

Given his recantation of the wronged-sweetheart story, it was of course abandoned. Richard's latest story involved two other men and a 14-year-old boy — Ed Davis, the hired hand. The reports do not tell us exactly what role Richard assigned to young Ed, but he was kind enough not to suggest that the boy had pulled the trigger.
This time the triggerman was Leon Baldwin, a 32-year-old pipefitter and former Hobart resident now living in Miller. Richard said he'd been afraid to name him before because Baldwin had threatened to kill him if he did. The other man was Baldwin's brother-in-law, Eldon "Bud" Boursier. The motive? As usual, a woman's honor.
According to Richard, Baldwin's story was that he, his wife Ramona and her brother Bud had attended a party at Henry Nolte's house.* As the party went on, Henry began making amorous advances to Mrs. Baldwin. She was offended; so was her husband; so was Henry, in turn, and he ignominiously kicked them out of his house. Baldwin wanted revenge. He and Boursier, accompanied by Richard and Ed, went to Henry's house the afternoon of December 30. They waited into the night. When they heard the car pull into the yard around 1 a.m., Baldwin picked up Henry's shotgun and went outside. Richard heard two shots ring out, then Baldwin walked back into the house, put the gun down and said, "Well, I've got him."
Richard's attorneys filed a motion for a new trial based on this story. The motion was set for hearing on June 18 before Judge William Murray.
Asked by the press to comment, police were skeptical. The investigation of the crime scene had convinced them there was only one killer, and they had not found a shred of evidence implicating Baldwin or Boursier. The notion that little Ed Davis was in on it must have seemed laughable. Prosecutor Fred Egan was confident the motion would be denied.
On June 18 Richard was brought from Michigan City to Crown Point for the hearing. He was pale of face and impassive of demeanor, and the hair on his head where it had been shaved for the electrodes had not fully grown back in.
Prosecutor Egan came to court not exactly compassed about with a cloud of witnesses, for he had not thought it necessary to bring anyone in for live testimony; but he rode down an avalanche of affidavits that crushed the defense. Leon Baldwin could not have met with Richard at Henry's house the afternoon of December 30: he had worked that day from 7 a.m. until 4:04 p.m. at the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals plant in Whiting, and he had a manager's affidavit to prove it. That night, and up until the time of the murder, he had been playing bridge with his wife and eight other people; they all signed affidavits saying so. As for Boursier, several affiants placed him, from early evening until 1:00 a.m., working in the checkroom at the Knights of Columbus building in Gary.
Judge Murray chided Richard for impugning the character of innocent men, advised him to make peace with his Maker, and denied the motion for a new trial. Richard was sent back to Michigan City.
*As near as I can figure, that is; Richard's story was either garbled in the telling or poorly reported.

Governor McNutt granted a new reprieve, less dramatic but longer, giving Richard 54 more days to raise funds and gather evidence for an appeal to the state supreme court.

The county refused him any more funds. Sam Schorr had always been working pro bono; now Wilton Sherman had to do the same or be paid out of private funds. And private funds were in short supply. Some friends and family members had already given money but couldn't or wouldn't give more.
In July a court reporter named Francis Karn offered to prepare the trial transcript needed for the appeal for free. The transcript would be lengthy, so this was a substantial offer. Karn called it a "humanitarian act." In August, the Prairie Farmer, an agricultural magazine that owned Chicago radio station WLS, offered money and lawyers to help with the appeal.
I am always grateful to receive an education, and I have received one in reading about this trial. I had thought of the 1930s as a harsher time with harsher attitudes. I did not expect the death penalty to be a sticking point for so many prospective jurors at the original trial. I was surprised by the sympathy shown to Richard by strangers like Mr. Karn. I was astonished that the Prairie Farmer would help the killer of a farmer. The few reports we have of Richard's behavior don't show him as very prepossessing: when he wasn't committing crimes, he was aimless, indifferent, uncooperative or flippant. Perhaps it was mainly his youth that made people feel sorry for him. Newspaper reports stated that he was at the time the youngest person ever sentenced to death in Indiana.
With the Prairie Farmer's help, Richard's legal team now enlisted state-of-the-art expertise. In August, Wilton Sherman told the press that the Northwestern University bureau of criminology would make a complete investigation of the crime. He sounded confident that this investigation would turn up new evidence. If it did, such evidence was never reported in the press and never used in any appeal. That is probably because there simply was no new evidence to find. Here I should mention that, having observed the Illinois Death-Row scandals of the 1990s, which culminated in 2000 with the Illinois supreme court reversing half the state's death-penalty cases, I have learned to be wary of making assumptions about Death-Row inmates. Innocent people have been condemned to death. But I don't think Richard was one of them. He himself never claimed to be entirely innocent. The story notably absent from his repertoire was the one in which he gave up waiting for Henry after a few hours, hitchhiked back to Mary Anker's farm, and never knew anything about any murder until the police showed up at his door. By his own account he was always either the killer or the killer's accessory.
As the end of Richard's latest reprieve drew near, his attorneys persuaded the supreme court to intervene. The court stayed the execution until October 18, giving the attorneys a deadline of October 14 to file the briefs for the appeal.
Early in October, the Prairie Farmer attorneys got Richard to take a lie-detector test. The result was not helpful to his case.
The same attorneys submitted a new petition to Governor McNutt, asking for clemency on the grounds that Richard had never had proper training or a proper opportunity in life. The newspapers don't give the particulars, so I don't know exactly what the petition alleged. We can gather that the Chapman family was unstable, and it may have been traumatic to Richard to be turned over to foster parents at the age of five. The Dunhams seem to have been a stable, law-abiding couple, he a storeroom keeper in a steel mill, she a homemaker (the usual occupation of middle-class wives at the time); Louis Dunham's collapse in court on hearing the verdict suggests that he felt a father's love for his foster son. Nowhere in all the reports on this case have I found the slightest hint that Richard was ever abused in childhood by anyone, and in light of his willingness to denounce other people, I would not expect him to be reticent on that point.
Governor McNutt told the press that he would take no action on the petition pending the supreme court appeal. Ultimately, the petition would not be granted. October 14 came and went with no brief being filed. The appeal was automatically dismissed. No newspaper account gives any further detail or any statement from the attorneys explaining their failure to file.
October 18 brought no word any further reprieve.
Nothing in Richard's life, it seems, became him like the leaving of it. Back on the night of May 24, expecting to die soon, he had recanted his wronged-sweetheart story, absolved Henry Nolte of any wrongdoing and taken full blame for the crime. The evening of October 18 he took the time to write letters to Wilton Sherman and Sam Schorr. He had been a difficult client: indifferent and unhelpful, often deceitful and sometimes abusive. So they may have been surprised to receive, at last, words of gratitude.

“Just a few lines to let you know I am trying to express my thanks for what you have done for me. Even though you have failed to give me life, I know you have done the best you can on what little you had to work on.
I am sending you my best wishes and sincerest hope you have better luck in the future. Wish you all the luck in the world and success and happiness. I shall close as the hours are few and I must write other letters. Will close and wish you a fond goodbye.

          Richard Chapman”

Just after midnight, Richard Chapman was executed.

♦    ♦    ♦
These days, whenever I hear a train coming on the Grand Trunk tracks, I think of Henry Nolte. He was born, lived and died within earshot of the railroad, and the whistle of passing trains must have been woven into his consciousness from his first hours on earth.

I suppose it's inevitable in studying a case of murder that you get to know the living killer better than the dead victim. Through the newspaper stories, I've seen Richard in court and in a prison cell, I've heard him telling tales and cracking wise; I've heard his life story and gotten some insight into his character and personality. But I know almost nothing about Henry.
I try to imagine him from the spare description on his World War I draft card: slender build, medium height, blue eyes, dark hair. What else? Well, his neighbors liked him. He had friends in Miller. He worked hard and made a success of his dairy farm. He lived with the family he was born with. He never married.
Was he happy living here in Ainsworth? His property was bounded on the east by the Deep River; I suppose sometimes on a humid summer evening, when mosquitoes swarmed up from the river valley and the manure piles stank, he wanted to catch a train out of here forever. But sometimes on a spring morning, when red-winged blackbirds trilled from the fences and the wildflowers dotted the woods, Henry paused in his chores and looked around him and was glad to be alive, right then and right there.
Grandfather Henry Nolte is buried in Woodvale Cemetery, a little island of serenity; tall trees surround it, and below it the Deep River winds through the woods. Ainsworth Cemetery, where the other Noltes lie, seems exposed and windswept in comparison, and sitting beside the heavily traveled State Road 51 it can hardly be called serene.
They seem to have taken their gravestones seriously, these Noltes. Even the infant William has a solid block of stone, still clearly legible 122 years after his brief life, though in the summer you have to push aside the lilac leaves to find it. The parents, Henry and Mary, share a massive block inscribed on top with the family name in bold, raised letters, flanked by two small stones inscribed Mother and Father. The two adolescent girls, Louisa and Alvena, share a graceful marker: a column supports an open book draped with cloth so delicately carved that you almost expect the next breeze to carry it off. Edward's low, slanted block of granite has Brother engraved in Gothic letters over his name. Henry must have liked that stone — thirteen years later, he chose the same for Louis. It is a lasting marker. The inscription telling us that Louis lived and died and was someone's brother is as crisp as if it had been carved into the granite only yesterday.

Henry's grave is unmarked. The end.

Take a look at this very good blog about the history of Ainsworth, Indiana, a small town in the northern part of the state. She is a very good author and you can find a lot of interesting stories about the history of the area. Although I have corresponded with the author and know her name, she doesn't have it published in her blog, so I will not make it public here. Enjoy!

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