Thursday, February 09, 2017

Siam treasure & secrets taken to the grave (Part 3)

Find a Grave photo
It would be helpful to read "Mystery, murder and the Siam treasure" and "Siam treasure, murder and a bucket of blood" before launching into what follows:

The "Siam treasure" case against four southwest Iowa men charged with 1868 murders came to a head at the Taylor County Courthouse in Bedford at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13, 1915, when Justice M.A. Sawyer gaveled the preliminary hearing to order.

The courtroom was packed and a crowd estimated at 1,000 had gathered in and around the building despite the fact rains had turned Taylor County roads into a muddy mess and it was a challenge even to reach the county seat except by train.

The prosecution was led by Iowa Attorney General George Cosson, assisted by G.A. Robbins, assistant attorney general, and Chariton attorney Walter W. Bulman, whose investigation had resulted in the charges against Bates Huntsman, Sam Scrivner, Hank Damewood and John Damewood. The Taylor county attorney and his assistant also participated. B.J. Flick, of Omaha, represented the defense.

Cosson acknowledged in his opening statement that his office was a little uneasy about the case.

"Mr. Bulman chose to file charges before the attorney general's office had passed on the evidence," Cosson told the court. "But we shall conduct the case exactly as if it had been handled just as we wanted it handled. The purpose of the state is not to convict these men nor to free them, but to get at the truth."


Prior to the hearing, some peculiar twists and turns had occurred in the investigation led by Bulman in association with others, including G.A. Brunson, a special agent with the attorney general's office.

Some of those developments involved three dead men who could not defend themselves but had been identified by star witness Maria (Collins) Porter as members of the murderous 1868 gang --- Jonathan Dark, her brother-in-law, shot dead some years earlier by her older sister, Mattie; Dr. Charles R. Huntsman, brother of Bates, who had died of a stroke during 1903 and was at rest in the Siam Cemetery; and Dr. A.M. Golliday, a Bedford physician who had died during 1908.

When news of the arrests reached California, a son of Charles R. Huntsman (and nephew of Bates), Charles Preston Huntsman, a Fresno realtor, had volunteered to rush to Iowa to defend his uncle with a story that the defense probably didn't want to hear and that the prosecution was leery of.

According to the nephew, he had heard his father and uncle discuss the murders but they had insisted that the killers were Frank and Jesse James rather than themselves. Bates and Charles Huntsman  told C.P., he said, that they had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been forced by the James boys to dispose of the corpses. No one seemed interested in calling C.P. to the stand.

The circumstances surrounding the 1908 death of Dr. Golliday were another matter. The doctor, scion of a prominent Taylor County family, had opened a practice in Bedford soon after graduating from Rush Medical College. Tall, pleasing to the eye and congenial, he had established a good practice but then turned peculiar, disappointed some said in love. He became a recluse and eventually retreated to a shack behind the drug store he had formerly been headquartered in.

His rat-gnawed corpse was discovered there during April of 1908. Scattered around the shack, in a safe, in bundles and in boxes in the abandoned store was $42,000 --- some of it in stuck-together and obsolete "Spinner" bills that dated to the Civil War. It had eventually proved necessary for the Golliday heirs to transport these  obsolete bills to the U.S. Mint in Washington, D.C., for redemption.

Aha! prosecutors thought --- part of the loot. The Golliday story was to have been a major part of the prosecution case.

Not so fast, said others, pointing out that Golliday was a very frugal man who most likely had accumulated the cash honestly and that he had instructed banks to hold the obsolete Spinner bills for him when they surfaced because he believed they were tax-exempt.

The tale of the Golliday treasure was ruled inadmissible as evidence.


Earlier on the day of the hearing on that long-ago Tuesday, the star witness, Maria Porter, arrived in Bedford by train at 2:30 p.m. in company with Bulman, his former client Sam Anderson, Assistant Attorney General Robbins, A.H. Landess, Bulman's assistant, and John A. McKenzie of Omaha, an attorney who was assisting the defense.

Mrs. Porter "looks anything but the heroine of the melodrama of the Siam mystery," a reporter wrote. "She is a quiet little woman, a woman of the sort one wants to call 'grandmother.'

"She was closely veiled on her arrival and went immediately to her room at the Garland Hotel to rest."


That evening, on the stand, Mrs. Porter told her story as follows, according to a report in The Bedford Times-Republican of July 15:

"Mrs. Marie Porter of Quitman, Mo., Tuesday night at 7:30 o'clock faced the four defendants, charged with the murder of a man whose name is established only as "Old Than" and told in a dramatic manner before Justice of the Peace M.A. Sawyer, in a preliminary examination, of the things she heard and saw on a night in September at her home about two miles northwest of Siam.

"I was about as far from them as I am now from Uncle Bates," she said in answer to the question of the distance from which she viewed the body of the man they were carrying in a quilt. That was about 8 feet.

"Asked who was there, she said that the body was being carried by Bates Huntsman, Dr. Huntsman, Sam Scrivner and Dr. Golliday; that Hank Damewood was walking along by them, and John Damewood was some distance away out by the team.

"At the time of this occurrence, the witness said, the family (including her sister, Elizabeth; brother-in-law Jonathan Dark and their infant child) was living on the John Collins place, northwest of Siam; She was asked as to whether or not she knew each one of the defendants at that time and she said she did.

"In approaching the sensational event, she said that her brother-in-law, Jonathan Dark, was away from home that night, and she told his wife, who was Elizabeth Collins, her sister, that she would take care of the baby that night.

Mrs. Porter said they had no time piece and she could not state exactly what the hour of the night was, but expressed her belief that it was about 11 o'clock. She went to the hallway, which ran between two parts of their log house, and upon reaching the opening she heard voices.

"I stepped out," said the witness, "and saw some men out by the gate. I stepped back into the shadow, and saw that they were carrying a man in a quilt. I heard them speak of "Old Than." I heard Dr. Huntsman say that he had felt his pulse, and that 'the old stiff will not be there to tell anything now.' They went past carrying the corpse.

"The whole bunch was looking at me, when Jonathan Dark spoke. He said, 'Damn you. I've a notion to kill you now, but we will let you live, and if you ever breathe a word we will wash our hands in your heart's blood.'

"At this point the witness was asked who the men were and she gave the answer related above.

"Mrs. Porter said she could not see the face of the man, as it was covered, but she saw the legs dangling. On cross examination she said she also saw a hand, but could not state which hand.

"She said that one suggested throwing the body in the well and others said to throw it in the ditch. She did not know which they did, and never saw the corpse again.

"I went back through the hall," the witness continued, "and they came back and sat on the wagon. They said, "We'll divide the money later on when there is a more suitable time.'

"She described by holding her hands up the dimensions of the box, which she said she saw Dark carrying.

" 'I next saw them the next day,' she said 'There was Bates Huntsman, Dr. Huntsman, Sam Scrivner, and Dr. Golliday. I saw Dark take the box down in the holliw. It appeared to be heavy. Scrivner came with saddle bags and he had them when he rode away. Hi was the only one I saw with saddle bags.'

"Relating subsequent events, the witness said that Dark told his wife he was afraid the boy would fall in the well, which she said had been abandoned, and he filled it with dirt her father had been taking out while digging a cave.

"Questioned as to a quilt Dark had brought to the house to be washed, she said it belonged to her mother; that she saw it when he brought in home wrapped in a newspaper, to be washed. That was two or three days after the alleged murder. She said it was washed, and before it was washed it had blood on it."


Testimony continued at the courthouse on Wednesday, again before a packed house. Sam Anderson and his brothers, Robert and Henry, were among those called to the stand.

The Andersons had nothing new to add; the defendants simply said nothing --- perhaps the best form of defense they might have adopted.

Under cross-examination, an inconsistency developed in Maria Porter's testimony. She had dated the alleged murders to September, 1868, by stating that they had occurred during the same month and year her father died. But the defense had sent an investigator to the graveyard where her father was buried and discovered that 1876 was the date of death carved into his tombstone. She was unable to explain the inconsistency.

The defense also challenged the motives of our friend Walter Bulman, alleging that his participation in the case had been motivated by the hope of financial gain. Bulman took the stand with his contract with Sam Anderson in hand, pointing to the dated notation of its cancellation a few days after it had been signed. Attorney General Cosson testified that Bulman was not being paid for his role in the prosecution.

Others called to the stand included Special Agent Brunson, who had arrested Bates Huntsman, and J.H. Humphrey, who had been among those executing a search warrant at the Huntsman farm after the arrest.

But without testimony concerning the Golliday treasure, which had been ruled inadmissible, there was nothing especially sensational to report regarding the day's testimony.

Prosecution and defense wrapped up their cases on Thursday morning, July 15, and the end was anticlimactic. Defense attorney Flick simply moved that the charges against the four defendants be dropped --- and Attorney General Cosson concurred.

Justice Sawyer ruled that in the absense of physical remains or identified victims, the state had failed to prove that a murder or murders had even occurred, let alone that the four defendants were implicated.

Cheers went up in the courtroom when Sawyer ruled. Taylor Countyans reportedly were on the side of the defendants, doubting their involvement in such outlandish goings-on.

In the aftermath of the ruling, both the attorney general and Walter Bulman pledge to continue their investigations, but there's no indication that either did.

Bulman returned to Chariton, resumed his regular practice and continue to practice law in Lucas County for at least 40 more years. He died during 1971 at the age of 98 and is buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

Bates Huntsman died on March 13, 1920, at the age of 79 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Siam Cemetery. He reportedly had spent so much time and so many resources digging for gold over the years that there was insufficient money left to buy a tombstone.

Sam Scrivner had died two years earlier, on Sept. 7, 1918, and also was buried in the Siam Cemetery. He has a tombstone there that is worthy of a prosperous farmer.

John Damewood died on Dec. 6, 1936, in Page County and is buried in the Shearer Cemetery near Braddyville with his wife, Arilda --- Sam Anderson's daughter --- who died the following year.

Sam Anderson himself continued to bounce around, living his final years with a son, John H. Anderson, at Plad in Dallas County, Missouri. He died there on Nov. 19, 1935, at the age of 92.

As for the "Siam treasure" and the mysteries surrounding it, there was no resolution. Largely forgotten now, more than a century on, it seems unlikely that anyone ever will unravel one of Iowa's coldest cold cases or determine if there were a case of any sort in the first place. If some of those now at rest in the Siam Cemetery had secrets, they took them to the grave with them.

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