Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We've Killed 'Em

Arthur J. Burnham

In cases such as the Burnham-Wayne murders there are always people who imagine they heard something or saw someone. At almost the very hour of discovery the crime became a sensation and the investigators were forced to run down each and every “clue” in order to satisfy the press and by default, the public. That there wasn’t a logical connection between the victims and the alleged suspects made no difference at all. Likewise the police felt pressure to get the “madman” responsible off the streets ASAP so they began rounding up any poor schmuck who had a wild look in his eye and grilled them for hours before they were released.

The best suspect authorities could come up with in the beginning was Arthur Burnham, the only surviving member of either household. He had an iron-clad alibi and would have been released immediately in today’s criminal justice system but the police weren’t taking any chances with him. Burnham’s alibi was his health. He was confirmed by his doctor and by his roommate to have been twelve miles away from the crime scene with a severe case of tubercular cough. Despite this fact, and the fact that he wasn’t healthy enough to swing an axe with enough force and as many times as needed to kill three adults, Burnham was held for two days. He attended the funeral of his family on September 22nd and was returned to his cell. Later that evening he was released and allowed to stay with his in-laws.

After Burnham’s release the prevailing theory was the murders were an act of revenge on Henry Wayne. Remember the argument he was seen having the week before his death? The theory went something like this: Henry Wayne was a gambler and the fifty-five dollars he had deposited in the bank were from playing cards and not from the sale of furniture back in Indiana. Argument-guy was a fellow card player who felt slighted by Henry’s good “luck” and so he confronted him. When Wayne refused to acknowledge Argument-guy’s (AG) hurt feelings, AG had no choice but to kill Henry and his family. So why were the Burnham’s killed you might ask? That’s easy. May Burnham was awakened by the noises next door and caught AG in the act so he had to kill her too. This of course completely ignores the fact May Burnham was killed while sleeping which meant she would have had to take the rather unorthodox action of going back to bed after discovering her neighbors being beaten to death by an axe wielding lunatic.

While this “theory” was discussed only briefly it is a great example of the imaginative nature of wannabe witnesses when it comes to high profile crimes (see also “The Idiot Who Confessed to Killing JonBenet”). I am reasonably certain this story came about due to the imagination of two teenage girls who lived on the north side of town. A seventeen year old girl told police she heard a man, known only as “John,” tell another man “We’ve killed ‘em.” This “evidence” was backed up by a friend of the girl’s, another teenaged girl. At any rate, the man the police believed to be Argument-guy turned himself in and it was quickly established he had never met nor heard of Henry Wayne before the crime was discovered.

Tomorrows post will go into the second suspect, Anthony “Tony” Donatel, a former suitor of Alice May Hill who may have kept in closer contact with May than Arthur Burnham realized.

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