State v. Williams, No. 34909.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtFAVILLE
Citation195 Iowa 785,192 N.W. 901
PartiesSTATE v. WILLIAMS.
Decision Date03 April 1923
Docket NumberNo. 34909.

195 Iowa 785
192 N.W. 901

STATE
v.
WILLIAMS.

No. 34909.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

April 3, 1923.


Appeal from District Court, Polk County; Lester L. Thompson, Judge.

Defendant was indicted for murder in the first degree. He entered a plea of not guilty. On the trial to a jury, he was found guilty of the crime as charged, and the verdict fixed the death penalty. Judgment was entered in conformity to the verdict. Defendant appeals. Reversed and remanded.

Preston, C. J., and De Graff and Arthur, JJ., dissenting in part.

[192 N.W. 902]

Geo. H. Woodson, Chas. P. Howard, and McHenry & Bowers, all of Des Moines, for appellant.

Ben J. Gibson, Atty. Gen., John Fletcher, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Arthur G. Rippey, Co. Atty., and T. J. Guthrie, Sp. Prosecutor, both of Des Moines, for the State.


FAVILLE, J.

Appellant was indicted and convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hanged. Sara Barbara Thorsdale, with whose murder the defendant is charged, was 24 years of age at the time of her death, which occurred June 2, 1921. She was a teacher in the public schools in the city of Des Moines, and at the time in question was employed in the Clara Barton school, which building is located in the extreme southwestern part of the city, on Fifty–Sixth street, some distance south of what is know as Park avenue. Miss Thorsdale resided at 4814 University avenue, Des Moines. On the morning of each school day she took a street car from her residence to the Union Depot, and thence by train to a crossing stop located at the intersection of the railroad and Park avenue, a little to the east of the Hawkeye Portland cement plant. From this point her usual route of travel was west on Park avenue to Fifty–Sixth street, and thence south on Fifty–Sixth street to the school building. Sometimes she took a shorter route, following a switch track which passed through the property of the cement plant. In returning from her work in the evening she usually went north on Fifty–Sixth street to Park avenue, west on Park avenue to Sixty–Third street, and north on Sixty–Third street to Valley Junction, and from there by street car to the city of Des Moines.

On the afternoon of June 2, 1921, Miss Thorsdale dismissed her pupils at 2:15, or

[192 N.W. 903]

shortly thereafter, and started by her usual route of travel to Valley Junction. She first stopped at the Albright home a short distance north of the schoolhouse, and at this place she left a milk bottle, as it was her custom to secure a bottle of milk for her noonday lunch. Mr. Albright testified that it was then 2:20. She visited a few moments, and upon leaving said that she “must be going in order to catch her car.” She went north from the Albright home to Park avenue, and turned west on Park avenue towards Sixty–Third street. She was next seen by Frank Davis and his wife on Park avenue about a block and a half west of Fifty–Sixth street. Mr. and Mrs. Davis also met the appellant, who was just a little way ahead or behind Miss Thorsdale. Davis had known Williams for some time. Another witness, W. C. Anderson, testified that he saw Miss Thorsdale between 2:30 and 3 o'clock on this afternoon going north on Sixty–Third street, at a point just north of Park avenue and south of a crest of a long hill, at the foot of which is located the “big red bridge” that crosses the Raccoon river. Charlie King saw Miss Thorsdale going down the hill. He also saw the appellant going down the hill. This is the last place that Miss Thorsdale was seen alive. As she did not return to her home that evening, a search was commenced for her the next day. Her body was not found until the 4th of June, and when discovered it was lying in the timberland just to the east of Sixty–Third street, and north of the Coon river bridge. The body disclosed that death had resulted from a blow from some blunt instrument, presumably a large bridge bolt, which was subsequently found a short distance from the body. On the 3d of June a rubber, Exhibit K, was found a short distance southwest of the body.

The body, when found, was lying on the back. The clothes of the young woman were raised about her waist, her hair was disheveled, her underclothing was torn, the lower limbs were apart, and one arm was across her face. Her person had been ravished. Dr. Guy Clift, the coroner, testified:

“I was called to where the body of Sara Thorsdale was lying. I made an examination of the body. There was a wound on the head above the hair line on the left side. There were marks on her throat and face, her elbows were gouged, and there had been an assault committed on the body. This was accomplished after death. Death was caused by the crushing injuries to the skull.”

The Hawkeye Portland cement plant, where the appellant was employed, is located about 80 rods east of Park avenue from where it intersects with Fifty–Sixth street. Appellant had been working in the plant previous to May 31st, but on that date and on June 1st and June 2d he had not been at work. Appellant had seen Miss Thorsdale pass the place where he was employed at different times. He had observed her on the highway in going from the school to Valley Junction. He had inquired a short time prior to her disappearance, of Carl Scales, one of the pupils at the Clara Barton school, as to which way Miss Thorsdale went in going home, and if she went by herself, and what time she left the schoolhouse.

The appellant gave as an excuse for not being at work on May 31st, June 1st, and June 2d that he was sick. On June 1st he was seen to pass along Park avenue to a point somewhere just west of Fifty–Sixth street, when he cut through a pasture across to Sixty–Third street, and went down Sixty–Third street in the direction of Valley Junction. In traveling this way he would pass over the same road that was usually travelled by Miss Thorsdale in going from her school to Valley Junction. On the day that the crime was committed the appellant was at a store near the cement plant, where he purchased some bacon, peppers, and beans, and borrowed 20 cents car fare. This was between 10:30 and 11 o'clock in the morning. From the store, which was located on Park avenue, the appellant went west on Park avenue to the home of a colored family named Griffin, who lived on the north side of Park avenue a distance of about one or two blocks east of the intersection of Fifty–Sixth street and Park avenue. He talked to Mrs. Griffin, and at that time she noticed he had on rubbers. Later Mr. Griffin came, and the family had dinner. They invited the appellant to eat with them, but he declined, and stated that he did not feel well. He remained at the Griffin home until about 10 minutes before 2, and at that time went west on Park avenue to the home of Will Aiken, which was a short distance west of the Griffin home, and was so located that it could be plainly seen from the Griffin place. Appellant remained about the Aiken premises for about 20 minutes, and was seen at one time in the vicinity of a small hog house which was located just to the north and west of the Aiken home. The Aiken home is just a fraction of a block to the east of the intersection of Fifty–Sixth street and Park avenue, and any one coming down Fifty–Sixth street, walking north, could be plainly seen from the spot where the appellant was at this time. The appellant was next seen by Frank Davis just west of Fifty–Sixth street, either ahead of or just behind Miss Thorsdale. He was also seen by Mr. and Mrs. Franklin and Anna Hall, who were driving south from Valley Junction on Sixty–Third street. They saw the appellant about 2:30 seated by the side of the road somewhere along the long hill going up from the river bridge. Mr. and Mrs. King saw the appellant going down the hill to the bridge. When arrested he admitted to the deputy sheriff that he went across the pasture field that afternoon.

[192 N.W. 904]

Between 4 and 5 o'clock on the same afternoon the appellant appeared at the pawnshop of O. Cohen, 308 Walnut street, Des Moines, and pawned the wrist watch that was worn by Miss Thorsdale when she was murdered. The watch was still running. Cohen asked him what he was doing with a lady's watch, and he replied: “Well, it belongs to my girl, and I just want a little money.” From the Cohen pawnshop Williams is not traced further by the state on the day of the murder. On the next day (June 3d) he rode to the cement plant on a truck that hauled the workers of the plant. At this time mud was observed on his trousers, and some on his knees. Some of the workmen joked with him about the mud, and wanted to know if he had been praying. He went to work at the plant that morning. In the afternoon he tried to borrow $5 of Mrs. Colavecchio, as he claimed, to enable him to redeem a watch that evening. Between 5 and 6 o'clock on the afternoon of June 3d he reappeared at the Cohen pawnshop to redeem the watch which he had left the day before. Cohen asked him for a ticket, and he said it had been lost. He then signed his name on the back of the receipt, and paid Cohen $5.50, and the watch was returned to him. Upon leaving the store he stopped beside a case near the door and looked at some men's watches. He was asked by Cohen whether he wanted to purchase a watch for himself, and Williams replied: “No; but I might trade you this one. My girl don't care very much for that watch anyway. She might trade.” Finally a trade was made, and the appellant received a man's watch in exchange for the wrist watch, and Cohen paid the appellant $2 additional. Williams then walked three or four doors to the east to Levich's pawnshop, at the southeast corner of Third and Walnut streets, and there pawned the gentleman's watch he had just received from Cohen for $5, giving the name Mason.

On the morning of June 4th the appellant went to work at the cement plant. During the forenoon of that day a searching party was formed, which was composed of employés of the cement plant. Immediately thereafter the...

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15 practice notes
  • State v. Drosos, No. 50462
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 3, 1962
    ...State v. Christie, 243 Iowa 1199, 1210, 53 N.W.2d 887, 54 N.W.2d 927; State v. Jones, 233 Iowa 843, 10 N.W.2d 526; State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901; 2 Wharton's Criminal Evidence, 12th Ed., § 675; 22A C.J.S. Criminal Law § The relevancy of such demonstrative evidence is usually......
  • State v. Knox, No. 46509.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 25, 1945
    ...of his past life and years removed from the time of the crime charged. State v. Flory, 198 Iowa 75, 199 N.W. 303;State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901;State v. Brazzell, 168 Iowa 480, 150 N.W. 683. We hold that both questions were improper and highly prejudicial, calling for irrelev......
  • Hawkins v. State, No. 27534.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 5, 1941
    ...conceive of no reason why the exhibit was not admissible. Appellant cites no authority to sustain his contention. State v. Williams, 1923, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901;Lundy v. State [1920] 204 Ala. 492, 85 So. 821.’ The photographs admitted in the Williams case were much more likely to destr......
  • State v. Schenk, No. 46268.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 3, 1945
    ...or substance as evidence, rather than its admissibility.’ Wharton's Crim.Ev., 11th Ed., p. 1293, sec. 762, citing State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901. State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901, 907, was a murder case. It was the claim of the State that Williams waylaid, assaul......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • State v. Drosos, No. 50462
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 3, 1962
    ...State v. Christie, 243 Iowa 1199, 1210, 53 N.W.2d 887, 54 N.W.2d 927; State v. Jones, 233 Iowa 843, 10 N.W.2d 526; State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901; 2 Wharton's Criminal Evidence, 12th Ed., § 675; 22A C.J.S. Criminal Law § The relevancy of such demonstrative evidence is usually......
  • State v. Knox, No. 46509.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 25, 1945
    ...of his past life and years removed from the time of the crime charged. State v. Flory, 198 Iowa 75, 199 N.W. 303;State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901;State v. Brazzell, 168 Iowa 480, 150 N.W. 683. We hold that both questions were improper and highly prejudicial, calling for irrelev......
  • Hawkins v. State, No. 27534.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 5, 1941
    ...conceive of no reason why the exhibit was not admissible. Appellant cites no authority to sustain his contention. State v. Williams, 1923, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901;Lundy v. State [1920] 204 Ala. 492, 85 So. 821.’ The photographs admitted in the Williams case were much more likely to destr......
  • State v. Schenk, No. 46268.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 3, 1945
    ...or substance as evidence, rather than its admissibility.’ Wharton's Crim.Ev., 11th Ed., p. 1293, sec. 762, citing State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901. State v. Williams, 195 Iowa 785, 192 N.W. 901, 907, was a murder case. It was the claim of the State that Williams waylaid, assaul......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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