Monday, February 4, 2008

The Curious Case of the Parrot

In 1942, a writer from Colorado Springs named Harry Galbraith published an article in International Police Officer magazine (which I have never heard of) about "Four sensational crimes" of Colorado Springs. On June 28, 1942, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph reprinted the article. Among the crimes he discussed was the Burnham - Wayne axe murders of 1911. He relates one curious account that was never mentioned specifically in the Newspapers at the time. The story of the Burnhams' parrot.

That May Burnham's father, J. A. Hill, worked for the Mexican Central railroad at the time of his daughter's murder was reported in the press. However the fact that he had, some time before the murders, sent his daughter and grandchildren a parrot was not widely known. Both Nettie Ruth and Anna Merritt testified at the Coroner's Inquest that the parrot stirred when they opened the back door into the house although Mrs. Ruth said it merely flapped its wings a bit, Mrs. Merritt said it actually flew out of its cage. Neither mentioned the bird having "said" anything as they entered the kitchen. Mr. Galbraith tells the story differently by either utilizing artistic panache or just plain getting the story wrong. By his account, the parrot cage was in the front room and after the two women had opened the door between the two rooms...
"the two women pushed in to stand in paralyzed horror for several moments as their shocked brain cells tried to grasp the meaning of the sight that greeted them.  When 
the door opened the parrot began talking, repeating over and over, 'End of the line --Damn your soul!'"
Now that's some chilling narrative! Mr. Galbraith didn't want the reader to think the bird was parroting the words of the murderer and went on to explain that the phrase was the only thing the parrot knew how to say. Apparently it was some kind of "bridge gang" vocabulary(?).

The "end of the line" comment does actually appear in the newspapers on the 21st of September. It was reportedly muttered over and over by Arthur Burnham as he went through his house and surveyed the crime scene, saying "its the end of the line" as he was led through the cottage by police. Was Burnham simply agreeing with the parrot as he tried to comprehend the end of his own genetic line?

I find this story interesting for a couple of reasons. First the context of it is just too good. Can you imagine that scene in a movie about the crimes? Second, the little bladelets of truth in the story. How coincidental is it that Galbraith reports the parrot saying nearly the same thing Arthur Burnham was reported to say. I have to leave open the possibility that Galbraith may have seen the Coroner's Inquest at some point since the document would have only been thirty years old. Most of the primary players in the case, including possibly the killer himself, may have still been living when the article appeared in the Springs Gazette Telegraph. The possibility also exists Galbraith was writing from his own memory and some of the details were blurred. But the question is whose account is correct? The general rule here is the closer to the event, the better the recollection. If the parrot had been in the front room and was prone to blurting out his cryptic message then the chance was great that the parrot would have woke the family before the UNSUB had a chance to carry out his mission. If the parrot was in the back room it still would have likely woke the family. Not sure where I was going with this post but I still think this is an interesting little touch to an interesting crime.

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