Today you will all be excited to know that we have finally made it to the trial of Mr. Smith! What will the verdict be? Will all get the answers to our questions about the case? Read on to find out!
We start the story of the trial on September 28, 1931. In that days edition of the Perry Chief, it is announced that Smith will come to trial on Tuesday (the next day). State Agent Tullar had been travelling nearby states the previous two weeks, investigating matters related to the case. He stated that he believed the “case against Smith is now airtight.” The case was built upon a charge of conspiracy to defraud an insurance company, and it was this charge that Smith would face the next day. The trial was to begin if the proper witnesses were secured to appear. Specifically, Doctors Wittle of Clarinda and Donohoe of Cherokee were slated to appear as the first two witnesses.
The next day, September 29, 1931 was the day of the trial. Perhaps surprisingly, the jury deliberated for only fifteen minutes before reaching a verdict. With a single sentence came the closing of the Smith Conspiracy: “We the jury find the defendant John M. Smith to be insane.” Judge W. S. Cooper immediately announced that Smith would be taken to the Criminally Insane Ward at Anamosa, until such time he was deemed sane upon which he would be returned to the Dallas County Sheriff for a second trial. What happened to the airtight case that Tullar was boasting about? What happened that caused Smith to be declared insane so quickly? Well, to start only Dr. Max Wittle and Dr. George Donohue were heard as witnesses before the jury. Both of these witnesses claimed unquestionably that Smith was insane. Dr. Wittle, for instance, said that Smith could not tell right from wrong, and that he was susceptible to suggestions from others who could influence him to act. Dr. Donohue said the same thing, adding that he though Smith was “too dangerous to be discharged.” Thus, the entire trial last only from 9 a.m. to 10:35 a.m., when the jury presented their verdict declaring Smith criminally insane. As if to prove the verdict, upon leaving the courthouse Smith collapsed at the bottom of the first flight of stairs. He appeared to be in a semi-conscious stupor and continually called for “Edith” his wife, even though she was with him the whole time.
Many of you may be wondering if this is it. Unfortunately, it appears to be so. Even the paper says that the entire debacle is a “mystery which still has many loose ends and which will probably never be fully told.” For example, the story of the body found in the car will never be fully told. A story about Smith did reappear in May 1932, but it was a small article about an interview where Smith claimed he was the victim of a “gigantic conspiracy”, and that he remembered nothing “from the time he was bumped on the head” the night the truck was found until he was found near Garner, Iowa. You will have to decide for yourself if the jury was correct, because for now, this case, is closed.
Good afternoon readers!
I hope that you are all ready for yet another exciting installment of the John Smith Conspiracy! Today we will be looking at the Perry Chief for September 5, 1931. In this issue, the mental health of John Smith is once again called into question, and Mrs. Smith is returned to her home only to be questioned for four hours!
The main headline of September 5’s paper reads “No Report on Smith’s Sanity.” Dr. Donohoe, one of Smith’s alienists (psychiatrists) apparently would not testify unless the court called for his appearance. Dr. Donohoe was the superintendent of the State Hospital for the Insane at Cherokee, and at the time of that paper, he was withholding his report on the matter of Smith’s sanity. In a different meeting between the doctor and the principals in the John Smith Case, Donohoe declined to discuss his findings. Meanwhile, Risden of the State Bureau of Investigation revealed a telegram in which “Dr. Donohoe claims he [Smith] is insane. I have also been advised that he was discharged from the army on the account of being insane.” If Smith was insane, Risden believed that he would be transferred to the state hospital for the criminally insane until he was declared fit for trial.
Another article in the September 5th paper is about the four hour questioning that Mrs. Smith was put through. According to the article, Mrs. Smith was taken from Des Moines to her home, where Court Attorney Sackett, Sheriff Knee, and deputy sheriff Burger, Chase, and McCarthy had her open a private safe. Inside the safe were dozens of business letters and a number of letters written by Smith since he had been confined in Clarinda Hospital. They questioned Mrs. Smith of the papers for four hours, but she maintained she did not know the businessmen in the letters well enough and she still upheld her position about the fraud conspiracy. Sackett claimed that nothing of exceptional importance was found, but they kept a large amount to use as reference if it was found to later pertain to the trial.
What will happen next? I bet many of you are wondering when the trial will actually start and if any progress will ever be made. I can ensure you that next time, when we will look at the September 7th 1931 paper which has the headline “Mrs. Smith Confesses Part in Conspiracy”, things will start moving. Return next week to found out what she says!
Hello and welcome back readers!
In today’s installment of the Smith Conspiracy, we are looking at the September 4, 1931 edition of the Perry Chief. The headline for this issue reads “Smith Before Alienists Again”, as well as smaller titles, such as “Smith Talks Willingly but Tells Questioners Nothing”!
Despite the headlines, action in the Smith case was moving slower than expected on September 4th. This is because John Smith’s appearance before the grand jury was delayed, in order to have alienists examine him a second time. An alienist, for those who do not know (like me), is an old term for a psychiatrist. The point of this examination, the second in three months, was to determine if he had recovered from his mental ailment. The examination was very long, as it was reportedly started at noon and still in progress three hours later. The continuation of the case rests on the report of the alienists.
In addition, Smith appeared to be talking willingly to questioners, but he was not revealing any new details that could apply to the case. For example, Smith had a conversation with a Chief representative, but while he at times gave the impression that he was about to disclose vital information, he never did. This behavior is not exclusive to just reporters from the Chief. Spying G. E. Whitehead while at the statehouse, Smith asked to talk to him. Their conversation included Smith complaining that he had no friends who would help him, and that he did not know what to do. Whitehead pressured Smith to confess, but Smith only said that he had confessed about the girl, and then complained of pain in his head and left the conversation. Other conversations with Smith have gone in a similar direction, and because of this evasiveness, authorities are doubtful that Smith will talk in front of the grand jury.
Mrs. Smith also made a brief appearance in the September 4 paper. Due to her believed connection to the crime, she was being held in the Des Moines jail. Two men attempted to release her from the jail, presenting a writ of habeas corpus and demanding her release. The writ, however, was found to be issued in another county and therefore was not binding. Later it was learned that she was removed from the jail, but remained in the custody of authorities.
For a final twist from September 4’s paper, it was reported that a search of the Smith home had been conducted. In the home at least one letter was found and been turned over to officials to use in the present inquiry. While the exact contents of the letter were not known, it purportedly was a communication from an unknown person attempting to clear Smith of any suspicion.
Will the letter prove enough to clear Mr. Smith of suspicion? While Smith ever appear in front of the grand jury in Adel? Find out next week as the Smith Conspiracy continues!
Good afternoon readers!
Today we will be continuing down the path toward John Smith’s trial by looking at the Perry Chief for September 3, 1931, which had the headline “Smith Case to Grand Jury Friday”. Underneath that, a header reads “Perry Insecticide Manufacturer and Wife Face Charges.” Is Mrs. Smith in trouble too? What crime is she being charged with? Let us find out!
Late in the day on September 3rd, State Agent Myron Tullar announced that John Smith had been declared sane by Dr. Max White, the superintendent of Clarinda State hospital. The Bureau of Investigate, according to Tullar, had filed for Smith’s release and both he and his first wife will be taken before the grand jury at Adel on Friday. A decision to hold an investigation was made late that day on September 3rd when Mr. Smith admitted that he had in fact married Eauline Shaw of Elgin, Kansas when an inquiry was held in the office of James Risden, chief of the Iowa Bureau of Investigation. The decision was also made after Mrs. Smith, his first wife, was questioned for more than two hours in an effort to secure more information. She was arrested in Perry on technical charge of fraud the night of the 2nd, and immediately taken to Des Moines. State Agent Tullar believes she may be linked with the mysterious disappearance and burning of the unknown body.
It was established that Mr. Smith did indeed attempt to meet his first wife on the night of March 20th. He had driven to Winterset with his second wife Miss Shaw, and left her at a hotel to go and meet his first. When he returned after the chase, Miss Shaw accused him of being with another woman, which at the time he admitted but later denied. It was also discovered that Smith, when he first met Miss Shaw, claimed to be on a hunting and fishing trip. He married her within a month of meeting her, and purchased her a diamond engagement ring and wedding ring, which she claims cost him $88. Eventually Miss Shaw left Mr. Smith because she learned that he was wanted in Iowa.
Further, Miss Shaw stated that Mr. Smith had actually filled her in on the details of the plot. She claimed that he revealed it was a plot to collect insurance money, telling her the story of the burning of the car and body. She also declared that he had hinted someone had double-crossed him in the crime, and that he intended to “get them.” The $35,000, which Smith had at first claimed was because of a patent on a new invention, was actually his share of the insurance collections, and that the balance was to go to his first wife. Their married life was one of constant travel, with Smith returning to Iowa often for business. After he told her of the crime and wanting to “get even” with someone, Miss Shaw left him and went to work at Chautauqua. Smith apparently followed her there in an attempt to get her to leave, but upon her refusal, she claims he said, “It doesn’t make a difference I’ll go another hundred miles and get another woman.” This was the last she had seen of him until September 3rd at the Statehouse.
Mr. and Mrs. John Smith will face charges of fraud, with the possible addition of bigamy to Mr. Smith’s case, when they arrive in front of the grand jury. What will happen? Will they both be convicted, or will the charges be dropped? Find out in the next installment of the Smith Conspiracy!
Welcome back to the Hometown Heritage blog! Once again, we will be continuing the story of John Smith today. Instead of looking forward to September 1931, we will actually be taking a brief look at the July 1, 1931 paper. Although not a major headline, it is still important to the plot of the conspiracy: “Smith Ordered to Clarinda for Treatment.”
At 8 p.m. on June 30, 1931, County Attorney George Sackett brought Mr. Smith before Judge E. W. Dingwell. George Sackett presented charges against Smith for “conspiracy to defraud.” Harry Wifvat, Mr. Smith’s attorney, entered a plea of not guilty. This plea was made owing to the question of Smith’s sanity, which was in question ever since he was found near Garner. Judge Dingwell ruled that Smith, because of his condition, would be order to Clarinda, a state hospital. He was to stay there for treatment, upon consent of Mrs. Smith, until the court reopened in September. It would be during September that the criminal charge would be sought if Smith had any improvement in his mental condition. If not, the question of his sanity will be brought before the court, possibly resulting in his confinement to a hospital for the criminally insane.
Mrs. Smith did consent to Mr. Smith’s admission to Clarinda. She also filed a petition, seeking appointment as the legal guardian for her husband. This was so that she would be able to control his property and collect pension payments from Mr. Smith’s service during the World War. After this, county officers took Smith to Clarinda, and placed him under the care of hospital physicians. His treatment seeks to return him to a normal mental balance.
Will Smith return to his normal mental faculties, if he really is insane at all? What surprises does his court case hold? Find out next time as we dive into September and the court case!