Saturday, September 29, 2012

Unjustified: George Wilson Part 2 or If the Boot Don’t Fit, You Must Acquit

Archie & Nettie Coble Slept Here

Part 1 can be found here - I could go into a lengthy discussion about the events leading up to George Wilson’s arrest but I would be distracted from the meat of the post and the awesome title I came up with for it.  So to save you all the suspense, George Wilson was jailed, “confessed,” and arrested, in that order.  In fact Wilson was held in a jail cell without a warrant or access to council for five days before the alleged confession.  Found in the Wilson’s tent was a piece of paper, believed to be soaked with blood.  The Thurston County Sheriff, George Gaston also took measurements of Wilson’s boots.  This was in order to match up to the boot prints found outside the Coble’s cottage window.  Another bit of “evidence” was an alleged conversation between Mrs. Coble and a neighbor about George Wilson’s behavior toward Mrs. Coble.  But the most damning evidence the prosecution would produce, indeed the entire case hinged on it, was the alleged confession of George Wilson.

George Wilson - Prison Mug Shot
(Courtesy of "Chris")
 I say the entire case was pinned the confession simply because the other evidence was bollix.  I use the bloody paper as an example; the bloody paper that two “blood experts” from Portland had themselves examined.  The paper turned out to be a torn sheet of wall paper, reddish brown in color, and stained with water, giving the appearance of blood. This piece of evidence was exposed for what it was in the courtroom, in front of the jury.  One major piece of physical evidence was out.  As to the alleged conversation between Mrs. Coble and her neighbor, the defense successfully had this thrown out as hearsay so the jury never heard this story, in court, that is.  And now I will address the “confession” of George Wilson.  In its entirety the confession was “My conscience tells me I did it, but I don’t remember.”  That’s how Sheriff George Gaston remembered it.  It’s also how the court stenographer remembered it.  And all they had to do on the witness stand was remember it because no written copy of the confession was made available.  Sheriff Gaston claimed there was a stenographic copy because he had read over it before testifying to refresh his memory!  The defense demanded on two separate occasions to see the copy and have it admitted as evidence and the judge refused to compel the prosecution to produce said copy.  The “confession” was witnessed by Sheriff Gaston, Police Chief Wright (assumed to be from Olympia), Thurston County prosecutor Wilson and the court stenographer.  George Wilson was not yet under warrant and had no council with him when the statement was allegedly made.  Even in 1911 this was a clear violation of the 5th amendment.  Without the actual stenographic copy, it was just the words of the prosecuting team against the accused.  And what about the boot prints?  Remember sheriff Gaston measured George Wilson’s boots to see if they measured up to the boot prints outside the bedroom window of the cottage.  The Bertillon method being the most widely accepted system of criminal identification in the world in 1911; that had to be the evidence that propped up the weak confession and convinced the Jury to destroy a man’s life.  Well no.  It seems the boot and print comparison was never entered into evidence.  Why?  My guess is the prints didn’t match.
Netty McNett Coble
(and Archie's Hand)
If this case with this evidence were presented to grand jury today, they would fail to indict or the judge would simply throw out the case.  I also believe there isn’t any way a jury in 1911, with a clear conscience, could have returned a guilty verdict in this case unless they had already made up their minds.  The hearsay evidence thrown out in the court room was widely reported in the newspapers and sidewalk gab fests.  There wasn’t any possible way such a small community could cull an impartial jury from its populace.  The result of this trial would lead to the breakup of George Wilson’s family.  With nowhere else to turn, Martha would decide to leave her five children in a Victoria, B.C. orphanage after a Seattle orphanage required her to live with the children.  Some of the children were taken in by Horace Moore and his wife (no relation to the Moore’s of Villisca).  Martha would head for California, writing to her children occasionally, and marry a younger man named Carlo Jensen.  She would die in March of 1949 aged 65 years.  George split time between the Washington State prison and the Mental hospital during his sentence.  He was paroled in February 1925 and granted full release in 1928.  After his sentence he became a barber in Victoria, B.C. and later died in Alberta in 1965.  For those of you who are descended from people who helped send George Wilson to prison, now you know who the ghost is that keeps hiding your car keys.


Chris W. said...

Hi Inspector.

Hope you're doing well!

I came across this collection of memories of Archie/Nettie Coble (don't know who posted it):

This includes a photo of what claims to be their house in Rainier. Thought you might find it interesting.


Inspector Winship said...

Hello, Chris. Thanks for the link. I've read that article before. I think you sent it to me in fact. We both know how sensationalized that is. I'm curious about the photo of the house; the house could be the same one taken from a different angle but I can't be certain. It's a much more recent photo then the one taken from the newspaper so it could be that the house was altered at some point? The photo of Nettie is also curious. The girl in the link doesn't really look like the photo I have. The one I have is from Archie's and Nettie's wedding day and I don't think there's much resemblance, do you?