Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Thriller Thursday: The Murder and (Repeated) Burial of William James Jones

The Jones family is replete with expert BSers, who sometimes go too far.  There is even a family phrase for it, based on an incident where my grandfather tried to convince his sons that the Douglas Fir was named for a long-lost Governor of Oregon.  "Governor Douglas" means that you've spun the tale out too far, that you've created a story or faked a fact so utterly absurd that you've lost credibility.

So when I heard that there was a great-great grandfather out there who'd been murdered, you'll forgive me for taking it with a tablespoon of salt.  But it turns out that not only is the murder story based in fact, but it sounds like the family BS talent may have done him in . . . .

Based on newspaper clippings that kind people have linked on, the story seems to be as follows:
  •  William James Jones was born in 1811 in Kentucky, married in Indiana, and in about 1848 had made his way along the Oregon Trail, with his children and several related families to Yamhill County, Oregon, where they founded the town of Newberg.  
  • By the 1890s, everyone in town knew he had a lot of money.  According to the local paper, everyone knew this because he had told everyone this.  The generally accepted figure was $17,000 - or about $450,000 in today's dollars.  But in terms of relative wealth, it was 3.5 million dollars (according to this useful calculator).
  • In 1891, at the age of 80, William went to live with his daughter Irene and her husband, David Everest.  About $7000 of the $17,000 was in the bank, but the rest, according to William, came with him in a locked trunk. 
  • On Feb 15, 1892, Irene made him a special meal of his favorite food.  Right after the meal, he stumbled out to the outhouse, complaining of stomach pain, and died.   
  • Irene's sister Rosanna and her husband, the McGuires, lived nearby but seemed to be feuding with the Everests.  So Rosanna only heard of the death of her father when her son went to town, and then drove quickly to the Everest house.  Rosanna claimed that his mouth was foaming, and that his stomach was so bloated they had to use an unusually large casket.  
  • The McGuires decided that the Everests had poisoned William, to get his money.  And they tried to hire a Pinkerton detective to figure it out, but couldn't afford the $250 it would take.  They apparently asked the Everests to chip in for the detective, but they weren't interested.
  • There apparently wasn't any money in the trunk.  This is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the Jones BS skills, but was apparently very surprising to Irene and Rosanna.  William's four other children, you'll note, seem to be staying well away from this drama.
  • William was buried in Dundee Cemetery, but in 1893, his body was found on top of his coffin.  Some said it had been disturbed by rooting pigs, but most seemed to suspect either the Everests or the McGuires.
  • In early 1894, the Everests spent $1000 (!!!) to hire a detective to prove that the McGuires had injected poison into the body after William had died, when they had dug up the body in 1893.  The detective could only find evidence that pointed to the Everests, who then refused to pay him.
  • In September 1894, the McGuires convinced the county to get the body disinterred officially, so that the contents of his stomach could be examined.  They did this, and the examiner concluded that there was poison in his stomach, but charges were never brought.  
Now, I suspect that there was Governor Douglasing going on in this family a long time before my grandfather coined the term.  I suspect that Rosanna and Irene couldn't tell when they were being Governor Douglased, and didn't have a sense of humor about it when it happened.  All Jones kids have this phase at about age 13, but Irene and Rosanna don't seem to have grown out of it.

I also suspect, based on decades of experience and on the fact that each of my relatives has been, with great public outcry, written into and out of my grandmother's will many times, that William discovered that his life was a little better as an old man with $17000 than it was as an old man with $7000.

At least for a while . . .

So I'm off to watch Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry in memory of William, my poor murdered, buried, unburied, buried again, unburied again, and finally buried great great grandfather.

May your wealth be high enough to make you happy, but not so high that it becomes dangerous to health or final resting place . . .

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