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.


“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.


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”

This entry was posted in Interesting record discoveries, Salt Lake history. Bookmark the permalink.

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