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Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Pelican Point Murders.

George Wright.
Albert Hayes left his parents’ home in Eureka, Utah in December 1894, and went to work on the family ranch near Pelican Point on the west side of Utah Lake, some thirty miles away. He took a team of horses and a new wagon filled with supplies, planning to fix up the ranch and make it a going concern. 22-year-old Albert was later joined by two of his cousins, Andrew Johnson, aged 21 and Alfred Nielson aged 18.

The ranch belonged to Albert’s mother and Albert Hayes, nee Engstrom, was her son from a previous marriage. Albert’s step-father, Harry Hayes, placed little value on the ranch and wanted to get rid of it, but he was also upset that Albert “wanted to boss the place too much.”

The boys were seen working the ranch throughout December and January by neighbors on Pelican Point and John Barnes, a young man living nearby spent several hours with the boys at the ranch on February 16. But on February 18, 19, and 23, neighbors who passed the place remarked that it seemed to be deserted. Cattle, pigs, and sheep were running loose, and chickens were dying; some of the neighbors visited the cabin and found it locked and deserted. 


On March 4, the Anderson family, living nearby, wrote to Harry Hayes notifying him of conditions on the ranch. Harry Hayes wanted nothing to do with the matter saying the boys probably abandoned the job and left for Arizona to find work or had gone prospecting. Mrs. Hayes wanted to see for herself and with a companion went to visit the cabin. The horses and wagon were gone along with a plow and other tools, but inside the cabin, she found that the boys had not taken their shoes or clothes. She immediately suspected foul play.

A young sheepherder walking near Pelican Point on April 16, 1895, came upon the stiffened corpse of a young man lying face down, just above the reach of the lapping waves of the lake. It had apparently been floating in the lake for several months before being cast ashore, the body was swollen and partially decomposed, but it was clear that man had been shot twice in the chest. In spite of its distorted condition, the body was identified as that of Albert Hayes. Two days later the bodies of Andrew Johnson and Alfred Neilson were found floating in the lake, they had both been shot as well.

Harry A. Hayes.
The Hayes family had been involved in a contentious land dispute with a Mr. O.A. Slade raising early suspicion that he might be the murderer. There was also well-known that a bitter feud existed between the Harry Hayes and Mrs. Hayes’ family, the Hansens. But suspicion very quickly focused on Harry Hayes himself. He was viewed as cold and indifferent regarding his stepson's death and he was quick to furnish an alibi for the previous February. Three witnesses at Pelican Point, however, saw Hayes at the ranch the day before the victims were last seen alive. It was known that Hayes harbored ill will toward the boys and he had been heard threatening them. Harry Hayes was indicted for the murders was hastily tried. Though the evidence was circumstantial, and no clear motive was determined, on April 1, the jury returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation for mercy; on April 27 Hayes was sentenced to hang.

Before, during, and after the trial, Hayes maintained his innocence. He insisted that if a man named Stevens could be found they would have the real murderer, but he could offer no detail. His attorney appealed the case to the Utah Supreme Court who affirmed the verdict, denying Hayes a new trial. As a last resort they brought the case before the Board of Pardons and within days of the scheduled execution, the Board commuted the sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Meanwhile, Sheriff Storrs who had arrested Hayes was now convinced that he was innocent. One fact that stood out through all the proceedings was the prosecution’s inability to show what became of the horses, the wagon and the farm implements stolen from the ranch. The sheriff’s first clue came when he learned that a man named Weeks or Case from Spanish Fork Canyon had, around the time of the murder, a covered wagon full of tools he was trying to sell to neighbors. Under the name of Stevens, he had visited the boys at the ranch and had shown people there a picture of his little girl later identified as Weeks’s daughter Ruthie.

Weeks appeared to be a well-educated gentleman, adept at many professions, with a persuasive personality. He was also known to be an excellent shot with rifle or pistol who preferred theft to honest work. In the spring of 1895, he was arrested for stealing seven head of cattle near Spanish Fork Canyon. While out on $400 bond, he skipped out and moved to Freshwater, Colorado. There he practiced law and rose in prominence earning the sobriquet “King of Freshwater.” Weeks was arrested in connection with a questionable sheep deal and he persuaded the prosecutor to let him leave town to consult another attorney since he was unfamiliar with the law in this case. The prosecutor agreed, and Weeks left Freshwater, never to return.

Throughout his travels, Weeks was accompanied by his wife Jennie and their little daughter Ruthie. This time, whether or not she knew were Weeks went, Jennie decided not to follow and took her daughter back to her mother’s home near Gouverneur, New York. Before she left, she confessed to Freshwater Police Chief Harder that her husband had the goods stolen from Pelican Point. Sheriff Storrs had doggedly followed Weeks’s trail but was always a step or two behind. In 1899, when he learned of the affairs in Freshwater, the sheriff traveled to New York to question Jennie Weeks. 

Her real name was Jennie Wright, she told the sheriff, and her husband was George A. Wright, a graduate of Kalamazoo Law College. They met in Michigan and moved to Salt Lake City where he told her he had a ranch in the foothills and earned his living selling beef. She learned later that the ranch did not exist and he earned his living by stealing cattle at night, immediately slaughtering the animals and selling the beef to Salt Lake City butchers. 

Around the time of the Pelican Point murders, he came home with a new wagon and two horses which he called “a recent purchase.” When he went on his usual “nocturnal prowl” he told his wife that if anyone came by, she should take the horses to a gulch behind the stables and give them some poison that he left with her. This, she said in her affidavit, was the first thing that aroused suspicion in her mind that he was the Pelican Point murder. He later traded the wagon for a lighter one and killed the horses himself. The rest of the goods taken from Pelican Point had been in the cabin they occupied in Spanish Point Canyon. Jennie Wright agreed to testify against her husband and accompanied Sheriff Storrs back to Utah.

She showed the sheriff where Wright had killed the horses and there they found their scattered bones. She also helped him track down the people who had purchased the stolen goods from her husband. He found the wagon and other stolen articles and obtained affidavits from the buyers. He took the testimony to Harry Hayes’s attorney who brought the case again to the Board of Pardons. This time the evidence was strong enough to convince the board that George Wright was the real killer and Harry Hayes was innocent of the crime. On May 6, 1999, Harry Hayes was granted a full pardon and after serving four years in prison he was released. 

Governor Wells of Utah offered a $500 reward for Wright’s arrest and released a detailed description; the name George Wright was first on a list of criminals wanted by Utah which included such notorious characters as Butch Cassidy.  Sheriff Storrs continued his pursuit of Wright and the governor’s reward kept the investigation alive. In October 1899, a man resembling George Wright was arrested in Weatherford, Oklahoma; it was not him. In December, police in St. Joseph, Missouri believed they had him, they were wrong as well. In 1900 he was seen in Chicago; in 1901 in Butte, Montana; in 1902, Salt Lake City; in 1903, Indian Territory; in 1905, Williamson, West Virginia. But George Wright remained elusive and though he freed and innocent man, Sheriff Storrs never captured the Pelican Point murderer.


Sources:
“George Wright Caught By Oklahoma Officer,” Salt Lake herald, October 16, 1899.
“His Wife Tells on Him,” Daily eagle, January 7, 1899.
“Indicted by His Wife,” Salt Lake herald, January 10, 1899.
“An Innocent Man Freed,” Denver Post, May 7, 1899.
“Is the Pelican Point Murder Mystery Solved?,” Salt Lake herald, April 16, 1899.
“May Free An Innocent Man,” New York Tribune, January 7, 1899.
“Murder Mystery,” Evening dispatch, April 16, 1895.
“News From Near-By Towns,” Salt Lake herald, March 21, 1896.
“Pelican Point Murderer Believed to be Arrested,” Salt Lake herald, December 20, 1899.
“The Pelican Point Murders,” Tribune, September 8, 1897.
“Reward Offered,” Daily Herald, January 18, 1899.
“Still Unsolved,” Evening dispatch, April 17, 1895.
“Wright at World's Fair City,” Deseret Evening News, May 14, 1900.
“Wright Is Captured Alleged Pelican Point Murderer Located in Indian Territory,” Salt Lake Telegram, June 5, 1903.

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