Monday, January 28, 2008

Surveying the Burnham Crime Scene


Arthur, Nellie, John & May Burnham

Having gone through, in a general way, the Wayne family’s crimes scene, I’ll now do the same with the Burnham cottage and give some background on the Burnhams themselves.

Arthur J. Burnham, suffering from a sever case of tuberculosis, came to Colorado Springs from Michigan about 1895 and was the only living member of his father’s family. Like Henry Wayne, Burnham was a member of the Modern Woodmen of America and had been told about the “healing” properties of the Colorado Springs air and sunshine. His health did improve after his arrival and he met and married Alice May Hill in 1904. When the sanatorium was opened in 1909, Burnham became an inmate and was given the job of “laborer.” He was given one day off per week and his day was Thursday and he would take a car from the sanatorium to his little cottage and spend the day and evening with his family. By 1911 Burnham’s tuberculosis had become severe again and he had trouble just walking the grounds of the sanatorium without assistance.

Sunday morning, September 17, 1911, May took the children, John and Nellie, to church then were seen in different locations throughout the neighborhood over the course of the day. The trio was also seen at Grant Collins store that afternoon. May’s sister, Nettie Ruth, often visited May and the children and on Sunday evening had dinner with the family. I believe both May and Nettie took in sewing projects in order to make extra money and May brought up the fact she had some sewing that needed to be completed. She and her sister decided to complete their sewing on Wednesday, the 20th and Nettie left for her parent’s house around nine o’clock Sunday night.

About one-thirty in the afternoon on the 20th, Nettie knocked on the front door of the little cottage and received no response. Both the front and back door were locked and Nettie didn’t have a key. She went down the street to one of May’s friends thinking maybe she was there. May’s friend, Anna Merritt, had not seen May or the children since Sunday afternoon and believed them to have been staying with Nettie. Grabbing a key in hopes of jarring the lock open, both women went to the back door of the house. Once inside, the women were confronted with a horrible smell coming from the front room. The door separating the two rooms was slightly ajar and the women looked inside.

The two women ran from the house and yelled in the street. Two men passing by went into the house, saw the scene and ran for the police. As a crowd gathered and the empty look of the Wayne house was noted and you know that story.

The Colorado Springs Gazette gave a better description of the Burnham crime scene than they did of the Wayne crime scene, but not much better. May, John and Nellie were found in the bed in the front room. John and May lay side by side and little Nellie was found laying across the legs of her mother at the foot of the bed. From Nellie’s position it was speculated that she had woke up and made an attempt to escape but was cut down as she tried. I’m uncertain if her body was covered or not. From the statements of Nettie Ruth and Anna Merritt it seems Nellie’s body may have been uncovered. Nettie stated “they first saw the red blotches on the wall and then – then we saw a form on the bed. It must have been little [Nellie].” The bodies of John and May were covered, however.

In the back room/kitchen were found the Sunday dishes still sitting on the table and a bed that had not been slept in. On the floor in front of the stove was a small pile of ashes. A wash bowl containing bloody water was also in the kitchen and on this bowl was found at least two black fingerprints. The east window of the room had been the point of entry with the screen cut from the outside in order to facilitate the lifting of the sash. A bottle of black ink or shoe polish had been knocked off the window sill as the UNSUB broke into the little room. An attempt had been made to wipe up the mess which accounted for the fingerprints on the wash bowl.

In the front room on the floor was found a crumpled Sunday newspaper that was partially burned. Investigators at first believed an attempt had been made to burn down the cottage due to a curtain near the makeshift torch being scorched. It was later found that a photographer had over estimated the powder needed to photograph the scene and a spark had caught the curtain on fire.

Here again I have to bring up the question of the status of Mrs. Burnham’s body. The same Pinkerton detective who called the UNSUB a “moral pervert” speculated that May had been the target of the attack and that the Waynes had been the unfortunate victims of mistaken murder. Why? I don’t know. It’s possible that May’s body had been mistreated in some way after her death and it’s also possible the detective, Elmer Prettyman, superintendent of detectives in Pinkerton’s Denver office, was trying to fit facts to the initial theory of the murders being motivated by revenge. Without a Report of Evidence Submitted for the Coroner’s Jury or any existing notes or documents related to the crime, we may never know and it would all be speculation on my part.

My next post will get into the suspects and blowing up the hypotheses developed by the investigators. I am intentionally staying away from a lot of details here in order not to bore anyone. If you have questions or believe you have corrections, just leave a message and I’ll look into it.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting in all these axe murders is how everyone appears to have slept through all the murders happening in the house. 1912, what kind of noise was happening that people did not wake up. In villisca they think the one girl downstairs may have been awake when attacked. Such a small house. Were the windows open?

Inspector Winship said...

Remember these were, for the most part, peaceful communities were people seldom locked their doors at night. Also, in Colorado Springs, Paola & Ellsworth, the victims lived very close to the railroad tracks. A body becomes accustomed to sleeping through loud noise so soft noises might not have disturbed them. The killer need only get within striking distance and be quick with the axe to dispatch a couple in a bed. Even so, it appeared that in Springs and Ellsworth, at least, other victims in the house were awake just before they were killed. In Colorado Springs, the night of the murders was a chilly night, as Colorado tends to have in the Fall, so it isn't likely the windows were open while Arthur wasn't sleeping there.

Donyale Adkins said...

Contrary to popular belief in the villisca murders everyone was asleep. The husband was the first to go then the wife then their four children then downstairs to the two neighborhood children. Spoiler the killer was and still is in the attic. His spirit never left the home at 805 second street in villisca Iowa.

Anonymous said...

Great job! I drove to this location yesterday and it is very creepy. They tore the houses down . Do you know when they did? Also do you have any more pictures of the houses and area?

Inspector Winship said...

The owner tore down both houses in January of 1912. All of the other buildings around there are original to the neighborhood. The only pictures of the houses that exist are single photos of each. They are available for purchase from the Colorado Springs Library. They are much clearer since they are from the original prints.

Erin said...

I am from Iowa, have been living in Colorado Springs for 13 years. I have read Midnight Assassin and am planning to go to Villisca this summer. It is fascinating how much a like these murders are. Is there a book on the Burnham / Wayne murders? I am just starting to read about this and would like to know more.

Inspector Winship said...

There isn't a book specific to the Midwest murders aside from a few you can locate on Amazon but they are just reprints of newspaper clippings and a lot of things taken from this Blog. I don't recommend them. However, Villisca by Roy Marshall is a very good, factual telling of the Villisca crime. And I highly recommend Villisca: Living with a Mystery. Please, please, please read and watch those two things before you visit Villisca. They are the facts of the case (although I sincerely believe you need to disregard anything regarding Wilkerson's hypothesis). Not tooting my horn but I believe this website might be the most thorough examination of the Colorado Springs case, particularly in relation to the rest of the murders. Enjoy your trip and report back. Thanks for reading.