Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Second Suspect at Ardenwald

William Riggin - 1915

In May of 1917, William Riggin was serving out a sentence in the State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon for stealing a gun in 1915. Riggin was a well known thief and had been first convicted of stealing a horse when he was eleven years-old. For that crime he went to the reformatory in Salem and after his release, was arrested for larceny and served his first term in the Pen. His reputation for being a thief was so great that the Washington County Sheriff decided to take him to the town of Hillsboro, Oregon in an attempt to clear up some other thefts. Much to the surprise of the Sheriff, Riggin blurted out “you want me for the Booth murder!”

William Booth had been shot and killed in 1915. It was two weeks after the shooting that Riggin was arrested for stealing a gun. Booth’s wife and an alleged lover had been convicted of killing Booth as a means to get him out of the way. They had been convicted on purely circumstantial evidence that hinged entirely on the alleged affair, which was all but proven to be a fantasy of the populace. Riggin’s confession was corroborated when he lead the Sheriff to the exact location where he had buried the murder weapon, a .38 pistol. In his confession, Riggin felt his crime had been justified because Booth “always had it in for [him]” and he freely confessed to being the trigger man. Perhaps feeling the weight of that crime lifting, he made another statement to the Sheriff that he had been involved in the murders of the Hill family at Ardenwald. This was shocking for a couple reasons: first, Riggin volunteered the information completely of his own volition, and second, he had never been a suspect in the crime. He actually made two confessions within a span of about two months in 1917. With his first confession he stated he was the lookout for two others who went into the house and did the killing. His two companions where Charles Brown and William Flynn. The name William Flynn was an alias of Ed Ramsey’s and no one is quite sure if Charles Brown actually existed. He stated he never went into the house and that when it all was over, the three split off and met the next day in an area about five miles south of the Hill’s house. This confession was short and vague on some details and wrong about others.

His second confession was much more detailed and those details were correct. Charles Brown disappeared and this time it was only he and Ramsey who took part. He still wouldn’t say he had actually killed anybody but he admitted he had been inside the house. Riggin’s presence in Ardenwald at the time of the murders was corroborated by his family as was his association with Ed Ramsey. Was Riggin’s first confession an attempt at notoriety and his second confession the result of coaching? Details that changed from statement to statement were pretty big. In the first confession he was one of three men, Brown took the axe from the woodshed (wrong), he never went into the house and all three escaped in different directions on foot, Brown and Ramsey going one way and Riggin the other. In the second confession he was one of two men, he stole the axe from a house on the way to the crime scene (correct), he was in the house after the murders were over and he and Ramsey walked some distance to their waiting horses before splitting up. In both confessions the motive was robbery and the killers entered and exited through the back door (correct). To further confuse things, Riggin made another statement to the D.A. in 1918 re-implicating Brown and gave his reason for omitting him in the second confession as trying to protect an old friend who had “always been good to him.” Even more confusing is the fact that Brown was an alias of Charlie Daniels (!) who did exist and was an inmate at the same reformatory in Salem when Riggin was there! I’m going to write on Charlie Daniels in my next post. For those of you who may be wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about suspects in a crime I myself have declared to be unrelated to the Midwest Axe Murders, I leave you with this: I may be wrong.

*Confessions and mug shot of William Riggin taken from Why Some Men Kill by George A. Thatcher
*On vacation next week, no posting

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