Friday, October 17, 2008

From Murders to Mayors

George G. Birdsall - 1935
Courtesy of Pikes Peak Library
On August 29th, 1956, George Grippin Birdsall, former El Paso County Sheriff, died after a long illness. He was seventy-nine years of age and had been a public servant and business owner for almost fifty years in the Pikes Peak area. His obituary which ran on August 30 mentioned his years of service in Colorado Springs government, starting in 1921 on the city council then in 1929 as mayor. Three years before his death, the city of Colorado Springs began construction on the Birdsall Municipal Power Plant, a steam plant designed to burn sludge oil and later retrofitted to burn used motor oil. The plant is still in use today and provides the city with 1/3 of its power using natural gas. Of his years as the El Paso County Sheriff (1909-1917), his obituary notes only “Colorado City (sic) went from a "wide open" town to a "closed" one. There had been turbulent years there.” Certainly the Burnham / Wayne murders had something to do with this but forty-five years later, no one wanted to mention it specifically. Sheriff Birdsall never arrested a suspect and officially investigated the crime for only ten days before handing it off to the Pinkerton agency. Birdsall was a special agent for the FBI in 1918 and would later be named a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1940 but his greatest political success was his time as mayor.
Warren County Public Library - became the first free public library in Illinois in 1920
Political success was not only afforded to George Birdsall. John Hamilton Hanley had graduated from Monmouth College in 1883 and later received his Masters Degree from the same school. He began working for the law firm of Grier and Stewart in Monmouth and would become a successful lawyer in spite of his lack of a degree in the field. The local authorities in Monmouth and Warren County had given up on investigation into the Dawson family’s murder but the crime stayed in the back of Hanley’s mind long after the rest of the community had forgotten. Hanley was known by his friends as a fighter for those who could not fight for themselves and the lack of justice for William Dawson and his family would have been unacceptable to him. By 1915 Hanley had what he believed to be enough “dope” on the case to at least make an accusation which led to the arrest of Lovey Mitchell.  Hanley's involvement in this case is not mentioned in any biography I have read.  In 1917 John Hanley was elected to his first of two, two-year terms as mayor of Monmouth and upon his death of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 15th, 1936, was serving as the city’s Master in Chancery (a kind of judge’s assistant). One of the first ordinances enacted by Mayor Hanley’s city council was a regulation on weapons within city limits:
That no person shall within the City, wear or carry, concealed on or about his person, any pistol, revolver, slingshot, metallic knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, razor or other dangerous or deadly weapon, nor shall any person display or flourish any such weapon in a boisterous or threatening manner.

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