Holden-Olivas Case Update

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A Note on the Event, No More, No Less

I was able to find, this morning, and from of all places the Auckland Star, an interesting bit on the case.  The article was published on March 20, 1886.

Referencing Holden Dick’s murder of Shaw–“In his confession he narrated all the sickening details of the crime and took the Sheriff of Modoc County, (C.C. Rachford) and others, to the spot where the head of Shaw was thrown and where the skull was found.  In his statement he implicated a white man, who died soon after the murder.”  So here is the second reference I have found suggesting Dick beheaded Shaw, and the second hint at a murder for hire scheme. 

The problem is, I don’t know the original sourcing of this Auckland Star piece, as it embellishes on the original Lassen Advocate piece, and the other reference I have is an entirely hearsay account.  So, more work.

An unhelpful call into the Modoc County Sheriff’s department revealed that they do not have records stretching back to 1886.  This seems spurious.  I will be writing a letter directly to the Sheriff, and I would be very surprised if records don’t magically appear, or at least a willingness to help find them.  If there is an account existing of the aforementioned event, I must have it; I want to know precisely what Dick said, and didn’t say, during his confession.

The first rule of investigation:  a lie is as good as the truth.

“Murder books,” as the compiled record of a homicide investigation is referred, looked A LOT different in 1886 than they do now.  I have read a two paragraph investigative account of a murder that took place in Santa Barbara, at a much later date, which accounts almost entirely for the historical record of the investigation.

Today’s murder books can run into dozens, and additional dozens, of three ring binders.

A second call, put into the Lassen County Superior Court, resulted in a much better response.  Records exist back to 1894, though handwritten and bound.  For a few bucks I can request any of them.  I simply cannot wait to get my hands on the direct records of the trials of both Holden and Olivas, whatever they may amount too, and any subsequent records pertaining to the lynchings themselves.

The second rule of investigation:  a lead, is a lead, is a lead.

Finally, a word on Sheriff Jeremiah Leakey, who was out dancing at the time of the lynchings.  His death is reported in The Big Valley Gazette, on December 3, 1902, and it is noted of the man in his obituary that “He was in a measure deficient in the education of the schools, but he possessed a fine natural intelligence and a fund of quaint humor that made him a most entertaining companion.  Young people and little children particularly found in Jerry Leakey a considerate friend and during his incumbency of the office of Sheriff, it was rare, indeed…that his buggy was not filled with them.  To delight the little ones seemed to give him pleasure; and if there be one characteristic that would better entitle a man to a patent of nobility, we know not of it.”

Signs and wonderments, my friends, signs and wonderments.

  1. Great article. Just a bit of trivia, Dr. Glenn (Glenn County) and Peter French brought the first cattle to Harney County and the Malheur Country. The town of Frenchglen is named for them. Peter French was murdered by the murderer was found “Not Guilty” by a Harney County Jury. Interesting story.

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    1. Indeed. As a very young man I lived in Glenn County, Willows to be precise, where my folks had a quarter section or so and my father rode in the Glenn County Sheriff’s Posse. Glenn was also murdered, by his bookkeeper. Long may the round barn stand!

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      1. My brother’s wife’s people a dairy/rice farmers in Bayliss. I hunted (well, shot) pheasant there a couple of times.

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      2. I think it is highly likely that we may even know some of the same people. Ask if they know Wayne Michaels. He has just recently passed, but was a major rice farmer in Willows for decades.

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  2. So the sheriff was a pedophile

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    1. I won’t speculate, but to the modern jaundiced eye that is one–likely the first–conclusion. But we should be very careful, because we will likely never know, and it would be unfair to muddy a man’s family name with mere suspicion. Interestingly, he was also a Mason, and is buried in the Janesville cemetery. Having said that…this description comprises the bulk of the praises sung on the event of his death, and the modern eye wonders what might lie beneath. It is an onion, truly, and makes this research an enormous amount of fun. What it also does is raise some very interesting angles–if one were contemplating tackling a book on the subject, which one certainly does.

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    2. A separate consideration is that the writer of the obituary was a pedophile. It’s a sticky-wicket, as they say. What’s fair enough is that for us post-modern, Jerry Springer types, the commentary causes a certain uncomfortable crawl in the nervous system. OR…it is all absolutely innocent and the praise is simply evidence of a more innocent time. That is entirely possible, and should remain in the forefront unless or until we can say otherwise. Or should it?

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  3. I hear a book a-comin’ it’s rollin’ round the bend…
    Narrative non-fiction, along the lines of Erik Larson — using a crime to pull back the curtain on a time and an era… You’ve got the chops both as a researcher and as a writer to really make something out of this.

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    1. Something is coming, I am certain. The struggle is always, as you well know, finding the right track to send the train down. It’s in there and it will be fun to see where it goes. Thanks, Jim.

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  4. adventuresfantastic January 26, 2016 at 6:41 am

    This is a fascinating series, Craig. I’m looking forward to what find out.

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    1. Thanks, Keith. It is developing into a full blown obsession. I think the easy discoveries have largely been made, and now the real investigative fun can begin.

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