One hundred years ago today, November 9, 1916, a murder took place in the Kearns Building in downtown Salt Lake City. Mrs. Amy Helen Hill killed attorney Ross M. Bonny in his office, in front of his sister, Mrs. Winnie Vincent. The two women had been visiting Bonny, pleading with him to make an honest woman of Mrs. Hill, a divorcee who had spent the last five years living with Mr. Bonny. Bonny decided he no longer wanted to listen to the women and got up to leave. One newspaper story claimed he told them he was going to Midvale to spend time with the woman he had left Hill for, another divorcee. Before he could put on his jacket and hat, Hill had pulled a gun out of her muff and shot him in the head. Mrs. Vincent tried to take the gun from her, but Hill hung on to it, stood over Bonny and shot him again. She then seemed to come to her senses, ran out into the hall, where, frantic, she told the elevator operator that she had shot Mr. Bonny and asked for help. He took the gun from her and called for assistance. Police arrived shortly thereafter and took Mrs. Hill into custody.
Once in police custody Mrs. Hill fell apart, they questioned her and she readily admitted what she’d done and offered an explanation. Mrs. Hill had grown infatuated with Bonny several years before and, with his encouragement, she left her husband and four children and moved in with him. At first she pretended to be his maid, but overtime and after a move, people assumed they were married. Bonny helped her secure a divorce. Her husband was outraged, but came to terms with her departure and moved their children to Idaho where he eventually remarried. Hill expressed incredible guilt over leaving her family especially after one of her daughters died unexpectedly. To make matters worse, Bonny did not live up to his end of the bargain and never married her, even though she may have been pregnant at the time of the murder. His sister even tried to convince him to marry Hill. She later testified in court, “I urged my brother to marry Mrs. Hill because that would wipe the slate clean for both of them… Marriage is the only future open to a woman with a past.” Bonny was unyielding and seems to have moved on to another divorcée, who he had also helped obtain a divorce. Hill was devastated and may have been driven to murder after seeing Bonny with his new paramour. After questioning Hill, police placed her in a cell, but kept a close eye on her. They may have been worried she would collapse or try suicide in her distressed state.
Bonny had a bit of a checkered past himself. In addition to dating his clients, he also got into trouble with authorities after helping an accused white slaver to marry the key witness against him, ensuring that she could not be compelled to testify against him in court. He sneaked the woman into the jail and while officers weren’t paying attention held a quick marriage service right there in the visitor’s room. He bragged to journalists that he had done the same thing at least once before. Even so, his death was mourned by many. His funeral was well attended and his family expressed gratitude for all the people who attended his funeral and those who sent floral arrangements. One of his eulogists, Judge J. W. McKinney “told of how Mr. Bonny had started out in life as a poor boy and reached a place in a high profession by dint of hard labor and great sacrifice. He declared that the manner in which Mr. Bonny had educated himself and become a member of the bar was an object lesson for every poor boy in the land.”
Authorities quickly charged Hill with first degree murder. She sunk into a deep depression. In her various court hearings she sat silently or sobbed quietly. According to the newspaper, people who went to the trial hoping for a show, or at least some salacious details, were disappointed as she didn’t testify and she was such a pathetic figure. She only inspired pity. Even Bonny’s sister who witnessed the murder was sympathetic. After testifying at the coroner’s inquest she embraced Hill. The Salt Lake Telegram reported that, “they conversed for a while, between their sobs, and the only words to be distinguished were Mrs. Hill’s oft repeated, ‘It can’t be true – he is gone – gone.’”
Bonny’s brother, F.F. Bonny, also expressed sympathy towards Mrs. Hill. He told the Salt Lake Tribune, “I want the woman to know… that we hope she will take the matter as lightly as possible. We bear no malice toward her. My brother and she occasionally came out to our house and they seemed on good terms. My brother was a good boy. He was of kindly disposition, and the family feels that the crime was committed at a time when the woman did not realize what she was doing.”
Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys professed that the case would be an easy victory and in a way they were both right. Hill was convicted, but of a lesser offense and only received a 9 month sentence since she had been in jail for several months between the murder and her conviction. Apparently even this short sentence was too much as the board of parole declared that she should be freed immediately when her case came before them.
We first came across news of this murder while doing research for the blog post on the Sandercock murder that took place in 1911. Hill and one of Sandercock’s murderers, McVey, came before the parole board at the same time. The mention of a notorious female murderer caught our attention. We not only did research in the Utah Digital Newspapers, we also looked on the Salt Lake County Archives online death certificates and found Bonny’s.
Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith, Archivist, Salt Lake County Archives.