A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal: The Conclusion

McVey routinely applied for mitigation of his sentence, and was routinely denied. In August 1918, while one such application was under consideration, McVey escaped from prison. McVey and another prisoner, Abdula Ali, walked away from work outside the prison walls. Both men were at large from Wednesday until Friday August 16, 1918, when they were caught separately. Ali was spotted in a “canyon near Hoytsville, south of Coalville…. [he] was soon overtaken and surrendered without a word.” McVey was also taken peacefully several hours later. He was found “in Silver Creek canyon, three miles west of Wanship, thirteen miles southwest of Coalville.” Though McVey surrendered without protest he, as colorful as always, later declared “that had he been armed he would not have been taken alive.” On a side note, Ali was also serving a life sentence for murder. In 1919, Ali applied for release after another man confessed to the crime Ali was doing time for.

Salt Lake Tribune, 1918-08-16, Untitled

Salt Lake Tribune, 1918-08-16, Untitled

You might think after the escape attempt that prison officials would never consider McVey’s release, but you would be wrong: not only did they consider it – they released him just two years later. McVey claimed to be reformed by a surgery to his brain he underwent while in prison. According to the Salt Lake Telegram, McVey was consistently in a bad mood and suffered headaches. This could be explained by the fact that he was in prison, but doctors thought there might be another explanation and while examining his skull found a depression. According to one report, the dent in McVey’s head was the result of an altercation with a prison guard in Nevada. The doctors operated on his skull and his personality seemed to shift noticeably; he became amiable and obedient. The doctors, Dr. Beatty and Dr. L.F. Hummer, watched McVey closely for the next two years and believed the changes were genuine and that McVey had been “cured of his evil tendencies.” Therefore the Board of Pardons commuted his sentence and he headed to Texas to visit his mother.

While prison doctors had high hopes for McVey’s rehabilitation, he proved how ineffective the operation was just one year later. In December of 1921, California police contacted Utah authorities with the information that McVey, aka Bakersfield Slim, was wanted there for blowing a bank safe.

The last word on McVey appeared in a California paper in 1924. According to the moralizing reporter, McVey was an example of what happened to people who choose a life a crime. McVey is described as “One of the finest safe crackers the west has ever known…. The touch of his fingers can yet send a thrill of anticipation through the combination of any safe. And yet, Bakersfield Slim is a broken man. Two-thirds of the years he has been on this earth have been spent behind prison bars in cities throughout western United States and they have left their mark. Doctors say he will not live long. Prison life ruined his lungs…. There is no home for indigent safe crackers but during the Spanish-American War Slim ‘did his bit’ and fought like a man. So his last days are being made comfortable in a soldiers’ home.” He was 45 years old.

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Ogden Standard, 1918-8-17, Convicts Caught near Coalville

Salt Lake Herald, 1919-2-14, Absolved of Crime Ali Seeks Freedom It is unclear if Ali was released, though it is likely.

The Deseret News, 1920-5-18, M’Vey is Liberated by Board of Pardons, Story also covered in the Salt Lake Telegram. Another article in the Salt Lake Herald claimed McVey was “demented” and was being released into the care of his mother and sister.

Salt Lake Telegram, 1921-12-16, Utah Convict Wanted in California for Blowing Bank Safe

Second Edition Bakersfield, California, 1924-8-16, Local News

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A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal: Installment Five

While McVey was in prison within a year of murdering Sandercock, it was several more years before the law finally caught up with Burns, and with very different results.

Authorities in Colorado arrested Burns while he was trying to break into a railroad box car in December of 1915. Burns unsuccessfully fought being extradited to Utah to stand trial for murder. He initially agreed to take the same deal as McVey, but when asked to enter his plea in court he surprised everyone by changing his plea to not guilty. McVey was brought from the prison to testify against Burns, but as he told the press years before he was not a squealer. He testified that he had only confessed because he was framed and thought since he was an ex-con he’d stand little chance in court. He figured a life sentence was preferable to the death penalty. McVey claimed to have no knowledge of the crime or whether Burns had been involved. After he testified, he asked the guards permission to approach Burns, and the two men shook hands and wished each other luck. With McVey changing his story and the other witnesses long since disappearing from Utah, the court ended up dismissing the charges against Burns. He was returned to Colorado where he served time for breaking into the box car in Grand Junction.

It is doubtful that McVey was framed, but he may have been rushed to justice. The Sheriff told him that he had witnesses including his friend Miller who were willing to testify against him. After convincing McVey of the strength of the case against him the Sheriff also pointed out the likelihood that McVey would get the death penalty. This was not all bluff on the Sheriff’s part; McVey was a hardened criminal with a well-known reputation as a safe cracker, the murder had been particularly brutal, and McVey had led police on a multi-state manhunt. While the Sheriff was likely straightforward in his dealings with McVey, it is possible that McVey agreed to the plea bargain without benefit of counsel. Once he agreed the Sheriff, along with two deputies, rushed McVey to the court which had already been recessed for the day. Judge Loofbourow was brought back and accepted the plea. Only a handful of people were present; the sheriff and his deputies, the judge and court attaché, Assistant District Attorney P.T. Farnsworth, Jr., and of course McVey. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “the disposal of the McVey case requiring about five minutes time, was one of the quickest in the criminal history of the state.”

This might seem like the end of the story, but McVey had more surprises in store for police…. Come back Tuesday for the conclusion of the story.

Burns

“McVey Denies Original Story to Shield Pal,” Salt Lake Telegram, March 16, 1916, 2

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Salt Lake Telegram, 1916-3-16, “McVey Denies Original Story to Shield Pal”

Salt Lake Telegram, 1916-5-27, “Burns is Cleared of Murder Charge”

Salt Lake Tribune, 1912-2-25, “Life Sentence M’Vey’s Fate, Court Rules”

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A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal: Installment Four

While police were on a manhunt for McVey and Burns, Utah newspapers published more information about the murder victim, William Sandercock. According to the Evening Standard, Sandercock’s life “reads like fiction.” Initial reports claimed that he was a few months away from moving out of Utah to get married, but his friends later denied he was engaged. Then shortly after his death one of his friends received a letter from a woman claiming to be Sandercock’s daughter in England. She explained that Sandercock had abandoned his wife and two daughters in England 20 years before. After several years with no word from Sandercock, his wife decided to have him declared dead so she could remarry. Even though he had been legally dead for many years, his long lost family expressed surprise over his murder. His daughter asked that if he left anything behind it be sent to her and her sister. Sandercock’s friend tried to put a positive spin on the story, claiming that Sandercock always intended to return to England but received word of his wife’s remarriage and didn’t want to mess things up for her (by making her a bigamist), so he stayed away.

Friends of Sandercock and business owners in Garfield, including Sandercock’s boss, raised money to add to the reward offered for information on the murderers. They added $500 to the $500 offered by the Governor of Utah and the $500 approved by the Board of Commissioners of Salt Lake County. $1500 was a very hefty reward in 1911.

While papers were offering a more complicated view of Sandercock, they also offered a slightly more sympathetic view of McVey when they reported that the Sheriff had received a letter from his mother expressing concern for her son and a hope that he would be rehabilitated. While McVey’s mysterious woman never came forward (to provide the alibi he told reporters she would), there was one woman in his life that remembered him. When Sheriff Sharp showed him his mother’s letter during an interrogation in New Orleans, McVey reportedly broke down and sobbed.

McVey’s alibi witness never materialized, but a couple of other witnesses did. Frank Miller (the man who masqueraded as a deaf/mute) agreed to testify as well as George H. Quigley. Both men provided evidence that McVey had been in on planning the robbery gone wrong, tried to recruit them to help, and had shown up the next day in bloody clothes. McVey told Quigley that he had no choice but to shoot Sandercock, it was “his life or mine.” Quigley went on to claim a portion of the reward money. Two officers from New Orleans also received a cut. Quigley reportedly told police he need the money to get out of town as he was worried that McVey’s friends might seek revenge. Miller, aka Lewis, may have also tried to make a claim for money, but his likely reward was a light jail term for the crime of petty larceny.

Contrary to his claims of confidence that he’d be exonerated, McVey quickly became convinced that he’d be found guilty and given the death penalty. Therefore he agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder and received a life sentence instead. The newspapers expressed surprise at this turn of events since it seemed almost certain that there would be a long drawn out trial. One the other hand the Sheriff expressed relief, since much of the evidence against McVey was circumstantial, though all together it was a strong case.

Stop by Thursday to find out what happened to Robert Burns…

William Sandercock

William Sandercock

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Evening Standard, 1912-1-4, Sandercock’s Life Reads Like Fiction

Salt Lake Tribune, 1912-2-15, Mother’s Letter Makes M’Vey Weep

Salt Lake Telegram, 1912-2-15, McVey Will Return without Trouble

Evening Standard, 1912-3-1, Claimants for M’Vey Reward

Salt Lake Tribune, 1912-3-14, Quigley Gets Part of Reward Money

Salt Lake Telegram, 1912-3-2, Gets Jail Sentence for Petty Larceny

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A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal: Installment Three

McVey and Burns had become friends in the Nevada State Prison. Burns, “a highway man by reputation,” was released in April of 1911. According to the Salt Lake Telegram, he recognized McVey as “being a man of iron nerve and a thoroughly desperate criminal, equal to any crime that might be profitable to the team,” so he waited for McVey’s release and the two joined forces. McVey, aka “Bakersfield Slim,” had been sentenced to nine years in prison in 1908 for burglary and jail-breaking, but was paroled November 1, 1911. The two men headed to Utah. Nevada authorities notified Utah police who kept an eye on them, but lost track of them the day before Sandercock’s murder. After the murder, the two fled the state and authorities offered rewards for information on their whereabouts. They may have headed to California first, but quickly moved on to Texas and then Louisiana.

Mardi Gras drew McVey and Burns to New Orleans as they figured the city would be ripe for graft, but police there were on the lookout for criminals and the gang of thieves they hooked up with quickly got caught up in a raid. Burns managed to elude capture, but McVey was not so lucky. New Orleans’ police figured out that McVey was wanted in Utah and reached out to authorities there.

The press interviewed McVey while he waited for extradition and he expressed confidence that he would be exonerated. According to McVey, “If one woman can remember my face, she knows I was not in Salt Lake or Garfield when the murder was committed.” The reporter asked, “Who was that woman?” McVey smiled quietly and responded, “she may remember me and if she does everything will be alright.” McVey went on to say he had thought about turning himself in, but “figured that a paroled ex-convict had no chance, so I blew the state and made my way to New Orleans. I am not a squealer and you can depend upon it that I will never say anything which will hurt me or my friends. I am going back and I mean to fight this charge with full confidence that I can win out.”

Salt Lake County Sheriff Joseph C. Sharp and Deputy Jack Corless traveled from Utah to New Orleans to retrieve McVey and were surprised when they walked through the jail to see Frank Miller, aka “James Murphy,” aka “Philip Lewis,” in a cell near McVey. They had arrested Miller months before, the day after the murder in the initial sweep of Garfield and had charged Miller with vagrancy. Miller had a history of pretending to be deaf and mute, and in this way he was able to escape Utah without the Sheriff connecting him to McVey. Miller was not involved in the actual murder, but he may have been involved in the planning stages and he joined McVey afterwards. When police finally caught up with the two men in New Orleans, they were preparing to flee to South America. Sharp and Corless decided to take Miller back to Utah with McVey and both men complied even before a court order for extradition went through. Since McVey had a reputation for violence, Sharp and Corless took no chances. The two men took turns sleeping and guarding the prisoners during the long trip home.

Come back on Tuesday for the next installment….

“Men Pardoned from Nevada Prison Accused of Bloody Garfield Murder,” Salt Lake Telegram, December 1, 1911, 8.

“Men Pardoned from Nevada Prison Accused of Bloody Garfield Murder,” Salt Lake Telegram, December 1, 1911, 8.

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Salt Lake Herald, 1911-12-2, “Searching Country for Sandercock Murderers”

Salt Lake Telegram, 1911, 12-1 “Men Pardoned from Nevada Prison Accused of Bloody Murder”

Logan Republican, 1912-2-13, “M’Vey Confident of Proving Alibi”

Logan Republican, 1912-2-27, “Officers Return With Suspects”

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A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal: Installment Two

Early November 21, 1911, Theodore Candland, a cutter in the meat department at Sampson Meat and Grocery Store in Garfield, Utah (a city near present day Magna), went to work as usual, but when he arrived at 6:45 the door was still locked. Most days the manager, William Sandercock, unlocked the store before Candland got in. Candland was concerned, but had a key and let himself in. He quickly discovered what had kept Sandercock from completing his normal duties. Sandercock slept on the floor near the counter, but on this morning Candland found an empty bed and the remains of Sandercock nearby. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “the head and the shoulders were in a mass of blood and bullet holes in the face and body showed in what manner death had overtaken the manager of the store.” Evidence suggests that Sandercock put up a struggle after the murderer hit him in the head with a tack hammer while he slept. Sandercock tried to get behind the counter to a revolver hidden there. He was unable to grab the gun, the murderer had his own gun and shot Sandercock at least twice, possibly three times, unloading all six rounds.

Murder was not in the original plan. William McVey and (allegedly) Robert Burns planned to rob the store and possibly to blow the store’s safe; McVey was a known safe cracker and dynamite was found near the scene. But Sandercock’s presence ruined their plan. Shortly after the murder, they were overheard talking in an alley trying to decide what to do next, finish the job or flee. They decided to flee. The robbery and murder netted them all of 60 cents. It’s possible they left at least a hundred dollars behind in the uncracked safe.
Candland quickly reported the murder to the police who jumped into action and arrested around thirty vagrants, two of whom became the prime suspects (the rest were charged with vagrancy). The two men were innocent, but they did have useful information, which led police to two new suspects, McVey and Burns.

Come back Thursday for part three…

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Salt Lake Tribune, 1911-11-23, Bandits Slay Garfield Man; Suspects Held

Salt Lake Tribune, 1911-12-01, May be Thugs Who Killed Sandercock

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A Thoroughly Desperate Criminal

While going through the correspondence of the Salt Lake County Board of Commissioners, we came across the letter below. It was a request from the County Sheriff to the Board asking them to approve a reward for the arrest and conviction of the men who murdered William Sandercock, the manager of Sampson Meat & Grocery Company, on the morning of November 21st, 1911 between the hours of midnight and 7:30 am. We were curious about how the story played out and did a quick search of Utah Digital Newspapers, finding a very complicated story spanning more than a decade and several states. Over the next several weeks we will share that complicated story with you. Spoiler alert: the story features not only murder and a multi-state manhunt, but also includes a prison break, a man who played deaf and mute, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, bigamy, a hardened criminal crying over his mother’s letter, and prison brain surgery. Come back Tuesday for the beginning of the story.

Salt Lake County Clerk, Commission Correspondence, 1911, Series CL-338 Salt Lake County Archives

Salt Lake County Clerk, Commission Correspondence, 1911, Series CL-338 Salt Lake County Archives

Salt Lake County Clerk, Commission Correspondence, 1911, Series CL-338 Salt Lake County Archives

Salt Lake County Clerk, Commission Correspondence, 1911, Series CL-338 Salt Lake County Archives

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith, Archivist, Salt Lake County Archives.

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County Archives Intern Report, 2016

My name is Amanda Lundberg, and I’m currently pursuing a degree in American Studies at Utah State University. I’ve been lucky enough to be an intern for the Salt Lake County Archives these past few months. I’ve completed a project indexing the elected county officials from 1852 to the present day and putting all of the information together in one database.

In order to complete this task, I searched through all of the Probate Court, Commission, and Council Minutes records to find documentation of every elected official for each year, and then would transfer the information to an easily-accessible excel spreadsheet.

To say that I’ve learned a lot through this internship position would be the understatement of the year. I learned all about this county’s government history, such as the changes from Probate Court to Commission to Council. I also learned how complex county government is. There are so many elected positions, and each position comes with its own set of responsibilities.

One of my favorite aspects of this project was seeing all of the drama (for lack of a better word) involved with these county officials. From one person filling multiple positions, to people resigning in the middle of a term for any number of reasons, to a County Surveyor’s oath of office being delayed because he wasn’t exactly a “registered surveyor,” there’s a lot going on behind the names that fill the county positions. But don’t just take my word for it—no one can explain it better than a former county official:

“[B]eing elected to a county office is kind of like receiving a kidney transplant from a bed wetter—you are awfully happy to have it, but sometimes the side effects are not exactly what you expected.”

Mr. Vaughan Butler, Former County Surveyor

A HUGE thanks is due to everyone at the Salt Lake County Archives—especially Karri, Darrell, and Michaele—for helping me get one step closer to earning my degree, and for giving me hands-on experience in a field related to what I’m studying. As one who has never had a career goal in mind, I’ve chosen to study what I love—American history and government. It has been truly incredible to see what kind of opportunities are available within a subject that I am so passionate about!

Staff Note: Amanda will be finishing her undergraduate degree at Utah State University within the next few semesters.  Her excellent work during this internship will be available on our website under “County History” in the near future.  

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