Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Suspect Roundup: William Riggin

William Riggin - 1917
I have previously discussed William Riggin with regard to the murders of the Hill family in Ardenwald, near Portland, Oregon.  However that was written a long time ago and I would like to revisit Mr. Riggin in a little more depth and perhaps discover a little more about what made him tick.  William Riggin was born in 1883, in Yamhill county, Oregon, to George and Susan Riggin.  For George, William was his third child and for Susan it was her first.  Susan was George's second wife and was about 10 years younger than him.  Not much can be said for William's younger days except to say that his mother died sometime between 1883 and 1885.  William wouldn't grow up with any full siblings and his only mother figure would be a step mother.  George married his second wife, America Thomas, in 1885 and had six more children with her.  There are a couple of things to note at this time in William's young life.  The new "mother" of the family was just seventeen years of age when she married George, literally young enough to be George's daughter.  She would have married into the responsibility of caring for a a teenage girl of fourteen, a boy just entering adolescence at eleven and a just barely two-year-old boy, none of whom where her children.  By the age of five, two new babies would have come into the family and it would have been easy for a rambunctious young boy to get lost in the chaos.  And lost he was.  At the age of eleven he stole a horse, a major crime in 1894.  Because of his age he was sent to Salem and the Oregon State Reform School, with occasional visits home, until he was eighteen.
Oregon State Reform School
Courtesy of the Oregon State Library
His time in reform school did nothing but introduce him to more members of the criminal element.  Upon his release, he would return home from time to time but mostly took to living off the land and whatever he could steal, occasionally taking a job here or there.  It was at this time that he began to take up the "hobo" lifestyle.  He was a scrawny and short fellow so he took to carrying a long knife and developed a fascination with pistols.  In 1905 he was convicted of larceny and did his first stint in the Oregon Penitentiary.  His father, George tried to get him to go straight by securing him jobs as a farm laborer but it wasn't long before he would go back to living in the woods.  Sometime around 1910 he would take up with a "Jungle Buzzard" named Ed Ramsey.  A jungle buzzard was a term used by hobos for old men who lived for weeks or months at a time in make shift shacks, usually in the woods along railroad tracks, referred to as jungles.  These were usually stopovers for traveling hobos where you could occasionally get a shave or some soap and clean water to clean up.  The particular jungle that Ramsey hung out around was located in Scott Woods, just outside of Milwaukee, near Ardenwald Station on the Southern Pacific line.  Not far from this location was the work-in-progress cabin of William Hill.  You can read about Riggin's confession to the Hill murder (and my reaction) here. William Riggin showed signs of bi-polarism, calm and quiet one moment and violently angry the next.  His family knew he had problems but none of them could believe he was capable of murder.   He certainly had Antisocial Personality Disorder and my have been manifesting early stages of paranoia.  This may or may not have turned into full schizophrenia at a later time.  I can only speculate on his mental health but by 1930 he was a patient at the Oregon State Hospital. He likely died at the age of 74 in 1957, still a ward of the state.


Anonymous said...

Another fantastic article! Thanks for the great research!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Came across your blog while reading up on the well known Borden murders in Fall River, Mass.

I was idly hunting around for parallels because it had crossed my mind that the 1892 double axe murder might rather be the work of an psychopathic serial killer, rather than a family member or the maid.

Came across something that might link to the Borden murders and/or to some of the ones you are investigating:

A little after 2:00 A.M. on Tuesday, July 14, 1896, the Herbert E. Fuller was 750 miles and five days into a voyage from Boston to Argentina with a cargo of lumber when the captain, Charles I. Nash, his wife, Laura A. Nash, and the second mate, August W. Blomberg, were hacked to death with an ax in the vessel’s after house, the structure housing a chart room and officers’ quarters near the stern.

Boston and Fall River are both seaports, not far apart.


[First mate Thomas M.] Bram and [passenger Lester H.] Monks went below, examined the bodies, and returned to the deck, where they stood back to back, each armed, ostensibly in fear of mutiny. The only other man on deck was Francis M. Loheac, who was at the wheel of the ship. Just minutes before Monks discovered the bodies, Loheac had relieved the man who would become Bram’s principal accuser — a seaman who went by the name Charlie Brown but whose real name was Justus Leopold Westerberg.

Perhaps coincidentally, you've written about a Charlie Daniels (aka Charles Brown) who was reportedly a reformatory inmate with Riggin and was implicated by Riggin is some versions of his confession.

It would make for a long career of axe murdering, of course, and I'm not sure if the reformatory in question was a genral prison or only for young people? And perhaps the alias Charlie or Charles Brown is as common as John Doe, but the geographical distance would not be an obstacle to a traveler by sea or by railroad at that era.

For what it is worth!

Inspector Winship said...

What an interesting case you have there. Your Charles Brown and mine are more then likely different. The reform home in Salem, OR was for 18 and under which means in 1892 - 1896, if he was roughly the same age as Mr. Riggin, Charles Brown of Oregon would have been 10 - 14 years old. But wow, what kind of psychopath do you have to be to kill someone on a ship with only six passengers aboard?

Anonymous said...

Martin Luther Kellums

Inspector Winship said...

And why would you suggest Mr. Kellums?

Anonymous said...

Why Martin Luther Kellums? Several reasons:

First, “the eyes.” As you stated: “I believe the [Dawson’s] phone was covered for the same reason the mirrors and victims were covered (dramatic pause); the eyes.” Indeed, there are circumstances suggesting that, at a minimum, the Midwest Ax Killer experienced significant problems with his vision and/or eyes. For example, the Killer’s decision to flee when prematurely discovered by Mrs. Longmeyer and her daughter in Paola. And it’s likely the physical condition which caused his bad vision was something that could be readily observed by other persons and of which the Killer was grossly sensitive. Hence the reason the Midwest Ax Killer targeted the area of the victims’ eyes when killing them, and nowhere else. Martin Luther Kellums suffered from a “right eye defect,” which “defect” made the existence of nearby stairs extremely dangerous for Kellums (e.g., in broad daylight and after previously traversing them, Kellums completely failed to notice the Stillingers’ cellar stairs and fell down them). It is noteworthy that only one of the five victims’ houses had stairs. Kellums’ “right eye defect” was probably seen by the Stillinger girls when he lived at their house, and it is probably the primary reason the Stillinger girls rebuffed him (or, at least Kellums thought so).

Second, I agree with you thatthe Midwest Ax Killer’s primary motive was “hatred of family.” Kellums’ childhood was eerily similar to Anatoly Onoprienko’s childhood: Kellums’ mother died shortly after his birth; Kellums’ father died when Kellums was 1 year old; Kellums only other sibling was an older brother; after the death of his parents, Kellums was raised by “other people” (which probably means an orphanage). In addition, Kellums suffered “estrangement” from his wife and three young children just months before the Colorado Springs murders.

Third, it’s my opinion that the murderer was at least somewhat familiar with Lena Stillinger and Georgia Dawson (e.g., the post-mortem moving of Lena’s and Georgia’s bodies, and the distance from these murder scenes to the railroad). We know Kellums was at least somewhat familiar with Lena Stillinger. Prior to the summer of 1911, Kellums lived 18 miles north of Monmouth near New Boston, Illinois.

Fourth, Kellums was 30 years old in June 1912. He also fits the FBI profile in many other aspects.

Fifth, starting in the summer of 1911 and continuing until at least June 1912, Kellums was a wandering hobo. Kellums reportedly wandered “all over the country,” including at least Texas, Oklahoma, Denver, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. It’s probably safe to assume Kellums’ wanderings also included the State of Kansas.

There are more reasons suggesting Kellums may have been the Midwest Ax Killer, but it would consume too time and blog-space to describe them here.

Anonymous said...

Your theory about Kellums is, on first reading, very persuasive. Prior knowledge of the Stillingers, reports of strange behaviour, and a 'right eye defect' which could lead to an aversion to mirrors, eye-like objects and the faces of others, are all good grounds for suspicion.

However, since it requires us to believe that this man who supposedly had such difficulty with his vision that he fell down a clearly visible flight of stairs in broad daylight could also move silently through unlit and unfamiliar houses (in at least one case on one of the darkest nights of the year) and strike with such precision that he almost never woke his victims, the Kellums theory doesn't really hold water.

I do believe you're right, though, in your belief that the killer was not one of the 'usual' suspects, but rather one who was either investigated briefly but not taken seriously or never suspected at all.

Inspector Winship said...

I like this discussion we're having here. Martin Kellums: First let me say that is excellent background research! Well done. I have to agree with the last poster on Mr. Kellums. His poor eyesight, I believe, makes him less likely to be the killer. After dropping the class chimney in the Longmeyer's house, the intruder escaped back through the window he entered from, in a dark, unfamiliar house without a light, charged with adrenaline. Making his way through any dark, unfamiliar house by the flickering light of an open flame (or pocket flashlight) would be very risky for someone with poor eyesight.