Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Rock Springs Massacre, Sweetwater County, Rock Springs, Wyoming

Laura saw the horror in a sliver of the full moon shining through her window. She sat up with a start, thinking it was her stepfather finally making his move, but then gasped as she saw the man’s disfigured face, no nose and half his jaw gone. Letting out a scream, the girl pulled up the covers to her chin, watching as the figure crept forward keeping his face in the shadows. Oddly, he was wearing a long, silk blouse with a pigtail dangling down the front.
 As the figure silently approached Laura saw him point, motioning for her to leave the room. Jumping out of bed and going to the door, she paused; hearing running on the stairs, and then her stepfather was banging on the door. Laura hid as Adam stepped into the room, heading for her bed where the figure was now huddled under the covers.
          “It is okay, Laura. I’m here for you.” Her stepfather whispered as he paused at the side of the bed.
          Without understanding why, Laura stepped around the door and into the hall. She was jolted as her bedroom door slammed behind her and she heard Adam screaming. The terrified girl bolted down the stairs and called 911.

Mara Mountain stared at the gingerbread house in Rawlins, Wyoming, possibly the site where an 84-year vendetta had ended. Mara was the director of the Laramie Plains Historical Society, which was located in the Historic Ivinson Mansion. She mounted the steps slowly, hesitating to ring the bell as four months previously Laura Benson had endured the murder of her stepfather.
          When Mara called, Laura had seemed willing to talk and the girl invited her to visit, so the director had made the trip to Rawlins from Laramie. Smiling as the girl appeared at the door, Mara noted Laura was tallish and raw boned with an oval face and brown eyes set off with a large mouth and a melancholy smile.
          Laura ushered her visitor into the dim hallway and Mara thanked her for the time. The girl replied by saying that many years ago she had visited the Ivinson Mansion with her Girl Scout Troop and Mara had been gracious in discussing Wyoming history and answering the girls’ questions.
          Eventually, they settled in the living room with a pot of tea, sitting in overstuffed chairs across from each other. After conveying her condolences for the loss of her stepfather, Laura noted her mother had died from cancer six months before the murder. It had been a difficult year.
          They fell into an uneasy silence and then Mara said, “I think your stepfather was the final victim in a series of revenge killings.”
The director went on to note that since 1930 every three years an unexplained death had occurred in the southwestern area of Wyoming. Mara had traced each one of the deaths back to the 1885 massacre at Rock Springs. “Twenty-eight deaths since 1930, that’s the number of Chinese killed in the Rock Springs coal mining riots.”
          Laura shook her head in confusion. “You think my stepfather was related to the 1885 massacre in Rock Springs? I don’t understand”
          Mara explained. “Your father’s name was Benson, but his mother’s maiden name was Washington. I traced her back to Isaiah Washington, the ringleader of the riot against the Chinese.”
          Laura sat back, digesting what the director had said. She had never been close to the Benson family, having met her stepfather’s mother only briefly at a family reunion.
 “But why wait until 1930 to avenge the deaths?” She asked.
          “To the Chinese, a slight is worth 1,000 years. So you can imagine the death of 28 Chinese coal miners. Even if it takes forever, there will an accounting.” Mara replied.
          The girl’s eyes widened, absorbing the reasoning. Mara explained there appeared to have been a conspiracy to kill a relative of the people involved in the 1885 massacre. Why the killings started in 1930 was unclear, maybe it took time to organize the plot. Perhaps the 3-year interval between the deaths was to conceal the fact that the killings were of people who had a connection to the massacre.
          “It’s hard to grasp.” Laura said. “And why tell me if the killing is over?”
          Mara said she thought Laura would want to know her theory about why her stepfather was killed, that it might not be just a random killing by a deranged person. Also, Mara was curious to know if Laura had heard of her step-father’s connection to the massacre. The girl shook her head, saying she was unaware of the Benson family connection to the infamous 1885 incident.
          A silence fell over the two, and then Laura changed the subject, saying that she would start the University of Wyoming in the fall and relocate to Laramie as soon as she could sell the old house.
          They chatted some more and then Mara thanked Laura for her time and left, pausing outside of the gabled house and looked back. She hesitated, having come across a yellowed letter that had been missed in her initial massacre research. It mentioned there were actually 29 Chinese called in the 1885 rampage. It also noted that Isaiah Washington had a brother who had been a co-conspirator in the riots, but had deftly avoided publicity and accusation.
Mara huddled as a cold, spring wind swirled down the street. If the letter was correct, that meant one more killing to avenge the massacre.
          Laura Benson?


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Sun Valley Lodge Countess Schaffgotsch Abduction, Ketchum, Idaho

 They grabbed Countess Adele Schaffgotsch as she paused at her burgundy Land Rover. Roy appeared from behind her SUV and pointed at the rear tire, saying she had a flat.
          Adele was thinking of lunch and paused, caught off balance. Suddenly a white van appeared with the side door open and Roy stepped forward and shoved Adele into the van. Jack smothered her with a chloroformed towel.
          They drove from the imposing Sun Valley Lodge, heading north into the Sawtooth Mountains. It was a crisp April afternoon and the two men breathed easier, winding away from the recreation area. Three miles into the mountains, they came to a side road with a discreet estate marker on the left and turned.
          “The estate’s not occupied.” Jack said. “We can stay in the groundskeeper’s cottage; he’s away for the week. We get our money, and then it’s off to Mexico.”
          Roy nodded. They had hatched the plan in Williston, North Dakota where the two had been drivers in the oil fields. Jack had done the research, zeroing in on the Countess, a patrician woman in her late 40s. Still a looker, Jack had told Roy who had the roving eye.
          They turned onto a dirt road and after two miles came to a small stone and green frame cottage hidden among the tall evergreens. By now the Countess was stirring and Roy helped her out of the van, surprised that she was not older.
          Jack had researched the countess after seeing her name in a Sun Valley news item. Her distant relative was Count Schaffgotsch, who had discovered Sun Valley for Averell Harriman in 1935 as the site for a world-class resort in the western USA. The Count had been killed on the eastern front in World War II.
           Adele came to Sun Valley in the late 70s, taking a suite at the Lodge. She was reported to be in her early 40s. That was over 30 years ago, but time seemed to have stood still for the Countess. Their captive had a slender athletic build and a youthful face with silver hair, clear skin and bright eyes. 
           The two men led Adele into the sparsely furnished living room and sat her on the couch. Jack stepped back and appraised the Countess, noting she was regal in black slacks, a white sweater, and a blue blazer with a fancy scarf around her neck. She was a picture in wealthy elegance, but her youthful demeanor nagged him.
            As Adele regained her senses, she scrutinized her captors who were dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and dark windbreakers. They were rawboned, probably in their late twenties and bad news. She knew they had abducted her for money, but did they intend to kill her? Adele smiled at her captors. They had no idea what their future now held, as she had planned for such a contingency.   
          “Here’s how it is.” Jack said, interrupting Adele’s thoughts. He said he was leaving to make the call, demanding $500,000 for her release. The Countess gestured for her purse and Roy gave it to her. Adele found a leather holder and pulled out a card. “Call and ask for Mathew. He will get your money by this evening and then I can be on my way, yes?”   
          The two men stared at her, so quick and easy?   
         “The trick is the hand off.” Adele added, breaking the silence. “That is always the Achilles heel of a kidnapping. I hope you have a good plan.”      
          Jack shifted his weight uneasily. He did have a good plan. Still, Adele’s calmness bothered him. He had expected a gnashing of teeth and weeping.       
          Saying Roy would keep her comfortable until he returned, Jack left to make his call. With luck the prisoner would be back in the Sun Valley Lodge by nightfall. 
The round trip took two hours and it was twilight when Jack returned to the cabin. He parked and then held his breath, fearing the sudden appearance of the Idaho State Patrol, but all was quiet.
          Jack left the briefcase with the money in the van and entered the cabin, surprised to find it empty. He hurried to the bedroom where he found Roy spread out on the bed with Adele whispering to him.
          Pulling out his snub-nosed revolver, Jack went to the bed and put his hand on Adele’s shoulder. She looked at him and for the first time he noticed a strange glint in her pale blue-gray eyes. “Roy was so tired, he couldn't stay awake.” She said.
Starting to speak, Adele shushed Jack. She got up, turning to her captor who suddenly felt unsteady. She steered to the couch.
        “You called and got your money?” Adele asked. Jack nodded. He had gotten through to Mathew, who voiced concern but readily agreed.
          The Countess leaned forward and spoke to Jack in a soft voice. He was unable to discern her words; his eyes flickered, and then closed.
          Getting up from the couch, she went to the kitchen where she lifted the stove cover and blew out the pilots, then opened the oven drawer and blew out the oven pilot. Turning on the gas jets Adele returned to the couch side table and removed the bulb from the lamp. She took a pocket knife and cracked the bulb shell revealing the filament, then screwed the broken bulb back into the lamp.
          Adele checked on Roy who was laid out on the bed like a medieval knight with arms crossed over his chest. She smelled the gas, returned to Jack and whispered: “When the phone rings, turn on the table lamp.”
          She put Jack’s cell phone on the table next to the couch. Adele took Roy’s phone and stepped outside as Roy staggered into the living room. He looked at Jack with dog eyes. “She promised me quality time.” Roy said forlornly.
Adele called Jack’s number and he leaned over, turning on the table lamp. The bare bulb filament flared, igniting the propane gas.
Watching as the small cottage exploded with a roar, Adele got into the van and slowly backed away. The cabin remains collapsed and Adele murmured.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”