Early Murders

The Idaho territory was created on March 3, 1863, by an Act of Congress, and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. It originally included the present-day states of Idaho, Montana and almost all of Wyoming. In 1864, the Montana Territory was organized, and in 1868, Wyoming was made a territory. That is when the Idaho territory assumed the boundaries of the modern-day state.

An old territorial map of Idaho shows that in 1867 Idaho had nine counties, Oneida, Ada, Alturas, Boise, Kootenai, Lemhi, Nez Perce, Oneida, Owyhee and Shoshone. Lah-Toh (shown on the map) was created in 1864 but abolished in 1867. Oneida County stretched from the Utah/Idaho border to the Wyoming/Idaho border on the east, extending to the Wyoming/Idaho border on the north and running in a Southwesterly direction to the border line with Owyhee County, then south to the dividing line on the southern Idaho border of Nevada and Utah. 

There was some violence in the early history of Oneida County. One of those cases involved a family that resided in Malad and resulted in the tragic loss of life for a young man, William Parry.

William Parry

William K. Parry, far left, is shown in this photo with his family.


William Parry, the son of William Parry and Mary Ann Thomas Parry (Hobbs) was born in Glamorgan, Wales in 1849. His father died in Wales. His mother later remarried William Phillips, and he also passed away. She then gathered her children and came to America, except for her oldest son, Thomas, who had left for America on his own approximately six months earlier. The family came west and eventually settled in Malad in 1866. 

About three years after moving to Malad, William was killed while attending a dance in an old log building. A history written by his sister, Ellen Parry Ward, many years ago indicated that the building was located near “where the Malad City Hall now stands”. The history was published in 1954 by The Idaho Enterprise, and so it is believed that this is the old city hall that was located on Pig Alley, next to the old fire station. 

Charlie Benson from Cache Valley had a dispute with a man named Thorpe; and as William’s Uncle Fred Thomas (a brother to Mary Ann Thomas Parry) was manager of the dance hall, he asked Benson to leave. Benson did so but fired through the door and the bullet intended for Fred Thomas struck William Parry, and he died a few hours after being taken home.

Some of the men present, including the Peck boys, went in pursuit of the fleeing man, who had his horse in a barn on South Main Street. As William’s brother, Thomas, was going for the doctor, who also lived on South Main Street, a bullet from the gunman came very near hitting him.

After William was taken home, his body was laid on the rock floor in front of the fireplace, and the blood stains that were on the rock could not be removed and so the rock was turned over.

Benson escaped; however, in 1873, after killing another man in Logan, Utah, Charles (Charlie) Augustus Benson was arrested. According to a story in HJ News on May 26, 2013, “Shortly afterwards, a mob formed and made its way to the jail and dragged Benson outside. A rope was thrown over a large, elevated sign in front of the courthouse and tied around Benson’s neck. He was then pulled aloft and left to hang until dead.”

The story went on to explain that Charlie Benson was the “rowdy, eldest son of one of Logan’s earliest settlers, LDS Apostle Ezra T. Benson.” 

According to the story, “Even before the alleged murder, Benson was not well regarded in the community and was known as a man with a quick temper. He had fled Idaho five years earlier to avoid prosecution for a shooting death in Malad (this would have been the shooting of William Parry), and his meanness was reflected in a story by a neighbor who claimed his chickens and rabbits were sometimes shot for fun by the apostle’s pistol-packing son.

“Astonishingly, no inquiry was ever made into the lynching, and no one was ever held accountable. The one visual reminder of the lawless deed — the courthouse sign — was promptly torn down. A documented eye-witness account would not emerge until years later.

“Benson’s body was initially buried in the backyard of his mother’s home. Seven years later, it was moved to an unmarked grave in the cemetery. As with all graves, marked or unmarked, the location of the burial plot was recorded but … this information was inexplicably lost in the half century after the cemetery transferred its records from a ledger to a card-file system in the 1930s. The exact location of his remains is now unknown.”

Another murder occurred in the Oneida County of old, in the town of Franklin (now in Franklin County, Idaho). This murder resulted in the only execution held in Malad City. The sheriff of Oneida County was William H. Homer, the seventh Sheriff of Oneida County. As with many early historical events, there are several different accounts. In the Mooney case, they mostly agree with each other, but they are cited here because each adds a little to the story. 

The most concise story of the event appeared in “Legal Executions in the Western Territories, 1847-1911, by Michael R. Wilson, taken from newspaper articles from the Blackfoot Register, January 6, 1883; Salt Lake City UT Daily Tribune, October 29, 1881.

Michael Mooney

“Joel Hinckley was agent for the Utah Northern Railroad at Franklin, Idaho. On the night of October 27, 1881, a mail carrier for the office retired in another part of the building when he heard Hinckley enter, go to the corner of the office where the washstand was located, and begin washing his hands. In a minute the mail carrier saw two masked men enter the office and one brandished a revolver, saying to Hinckley, “Throw up your hands!” Hinckley, who was about to wipe his face with a towel, turned his head to see who gave the command, and the robber, without hesitation or further warning, fired one shot. The bullet entered Hinckley’s chin, passed through his throat, and broke his neck. He fell over the washstand and died instantly, and the two murderers fled in a panic.

“The mail carrier sounded the alarm and within an hour, a large number of citizens were scouring the countryside for the murderers. Suspicion soon rested on Michael Mooney, and he was arrested. At his examination, he was held over for action by the grand jury, indicted, tried and convicted of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to hang on January 20, 1882, but the execution was stayed while an appeal was argued before the Supreme Court.

“When the justices affirmed the lower court’s decision, Governor John B. Neil, reprieved Mooney to December 29, 1882, allowing time to consider a petition for commutation, but the petition was denied.

“Mooney slept well the night before his execution and ate his usual breakfast. At 10:00 a.m., the correspondent of the Blackfoot Register was admitted and Mooney, at first, seemed penitent when he said he wished he had it to do over again, but then continued: ‘If I did that, Barnes would never squeal.’ He said he would have nothing to say on the scaffold, observing, ‘It would not do anyone any good,’ and he kept his word.

“The barber arrived to shave Mooney, seating him facing toward the window for light, and from the chair the scaffold could be seen, as it had been assembled only a few feet from the jail door. At 11:00 a.m., Mooney bathed and put on the suit of new clothes and linen shirt provided by the sheriff. At noon, the prisoner returned to his cell with Judge J.W. Morgan, who tried to encourage conversation and disclosure, but Mooney would say nothing of his history, his family or his crime.

“At 1:45 p.m., Sheriff Horner [sic] read the death warrant and ten minutes later announced that Mooney’s time had come. The procession to the gallows was brief and the prisoner needed no support ascending the stairs. He took his place on the trapdoor and told the sheriff, ‘Do it as quick as Christ will let you, that is, if there is any Christ. I do not care any more for dying than I do for going to a dance.’ The sheriff and jailor worked quickly but carefully to prepare him and his last words before the black cap was pulled on was to thank the jailor for his kindness.

“The trap was sprung at 1:58 p.m. and Mooney broke his neck in the fall. Dr. Drake pronounced him dead in ten minutes, and then the body was cut down, placed in its coffin, and buried that evening.”

Another reporter for The Register, D. Wess, describes the event as follows:

“This morning… A peculiar stillness has prevailed and the expression of everyone you meet revealed that fact that he was aware that the day for the execution of Michael Mooney had arrived and that his life was only measured by hours.

“At about the hour of 10 a.m., your correspondent called at the cell of the doomed man. He sat upon his bed, which lay upon the floor, slowly eating his last meal upon earth; he looked up at me very despairingly and made some remark about the weather. He referred to his situation, when he replied that he wished he had the thing to do over again; that if such was the case, Barnes would never squeal… 

“At 11 a.m. he took a bath and put on a suit of new clothes and a linen shirt. All the time he had positively refused to talk of himself, his crime or anything connected with his history…

“At 1:45 p.m. his death warrant was read by Sheriff Homer and he manifested no change of feelings nor showed any signs of breaking down. At five minutes before 2 the sheriff told him that his time was up. ‘Alright,’ was the reply. He ascended the scaffold without being supported and took his stand upon the fatal door. He said to the sheriff ‘Do it as quick as Christ will let you – that is, if there is any Christ. I do not care any more for dying than I do for going to a dance.’ His last words were to thank the jailer for his kindness. At two minutes before 2 o’clock the trap door fell with a dull thud and the rope swaying from above told that it had done its work.”

“The scaffold had been constructed only that morning ‘a few feet from the jail door.’ (From Violent Crime in North America, Edited by Louis A. Knafla) 

Another more personal account was written by Hattie E. Morgan in the biography of her father, Joseph Williams (J.W.) Morgan, who was a noted doctor in Malad. He came to Idaho in 1866 or 1867 and settled in Malad where he practiced medicine.

In his biography, Hattie Morgan writes some remembrances about an old county jail. Hattie Morgan relates that her father built a long log building on the site where the South home stands today (this was in 1954) and opened the Deep Creek Store, Malad’s first store, and that the jail was behind that store. Her story is related as follows:

“On the next lot south of the old store was the B.F. White law office and Caribou Salt Works, freighters’ headquarters, and directly back of it the county jail, a log building surrounded by a high board fence. 

“Here, one winter night, its inmate, Elso Kelso, set the jail on fire. Caleb Jones had charge of the prisoners and carried the keys, but in his excitement that night, he could not find them, and he and father were frantic, thinking Kelso was locked in and burning to death.  

“Presently, however, they found where he had escaped by wrenching a board loose. A posse was formed, and he was found hiding in a haystack a few miles north of town. When returned, he said he had caught White’s dog and thrown the animal in the fire, thinking the bones would be discovered and thought to be his.

“Kelso went to the penitentiary at Boise and a new jail was built east of the James T. Jones’ home. Here, behind its high walls in the early eighties, Michael Mooney, a young man, met his death; the first white man ever executed under the law in the territory of Idaho.

“Father, who frequently visited and talked with Mooney at the jail, became convinced, as many others were, that he was innocent of firing the shot that killed [Jack] Hinckley, for which he was condemned on the evidence of Frank Barn[o]. This belief was proved correct when, just before Barn[o]’s death in the Boise penitentiary where he was serving a 21-year sentence, Barn[o] confessed that it was he and not Mooney who fired the fatal shot. Father had endeavored to get Mooney’s sentence commuted but was unsuccessful, although he did get a short extension of the date of execution.

“Mooney asked father to walk with him to the gallows. This father did, but it was a painful ordeal. After Mooney’s death, father was one of the three final medical examiners along with Dr. Ada Sherman and Dr. Isaac Drake, all local doctors.”

Another article in the “Idaho Semi-Weekly World” dated November 11, 1881, sheds further light on the murder of Joel Hinckley and the involvement of both Michael Mooney and Frank Barnes:

“A most cruel murder was committed at Franklin, Oneida County, this territory, on Thursday night, October 27th at 10 o’clock. Two men masked, entered the railroad station at that place, and going into the telegraph office, leveled a pistol at the head of the agent, Mr. Joel Hinckley and commanded him to throw up his hands, which he promptly did, and at the same time, the pistol was discharged, killing Mr. Hinckley instantly.

“The ball took effect in the chin, passed through his throat at the left side, cutting his windpipe and breaking his neck. The murderers immediately fled.

“Mrs. Hinckley, wife of the murdered man, and a mail carrier were in the building at the time, but in an adjoining room. This was apparently unknown to the murderers, and their appearance upon the scene at the explosion of the pistol, was no doubt a surprise to them, and hastened their retreat.

“The motive for the deed was plunder, and they were only prevented from carrying out their purpose by the appearance of the agent’s wife and the mail carrier. Sheriff Homer and posse started in pursuit of the assassins and robbers and succeeded in capturing them in the upper Portneuf.

“The names of the prisoners are Frank Barnes and Michael Money [sic]. Frank Barnes makes full confession and charges Money [sic] with being the plotter and leader of the intended robbery and firing the pistol that killed Hinckley. He states that it was not the intention to kill Hinckley but to force him to force open the safe; that the pistol went off accidentally and when he fell dead they were horrified at the horrible crime they had committed and both precipitately fled.”

The Salt Lake Herald dated October 29, 1881, provides still another story of the murder, headlined as “Foul Murder, a young man shot and killed in Franklin by Unknown Parties.”

“Information of one of the most dastardly assassinations perpetrated in this vicinity for years was received here on Friday. It was learned early in the day that the freight agent of the Utah and Northern at Franklin, Mr. Joel Hinckley, had been killed. Full details were not obtainable last night, but enough is known to relieve the deed itself of any mystery.

“Hinckley, as stated, is agent at Franklin, and it appears lives at the station. About 10 o’clock on Thursday night, the wife of Mr. Hinckley said she heard noises outside, but, after listening a few minutes, he took for granted she was mistaken, and proceeded to wash his hands. He was in the act of doing so when the door opened, and two masked men entered. He was ordered to throw up his hands by a man who pointed a cocked revolver at him, and as Hinckley turned around to see who it was, the weapon was discharged. The ball struck the unfortunate young man, so one report says it struck him in the throat and passed backward, breaking his neck. At any rate, he was almost instantly killed. The men then turned and ran, and up to last accounts, nothing had been heard on them. The following is a dispatch received here on Friday about the horrible affair

“Joel Hinckley, railroad agent and telegraph operator here, was shot dead by unknown parties, in the office about 10 o’clock last night. A young man who carries the mail from the depot to the post office was in bed in another part of the railroad office and saw the whole affair. Hinckley had just come into the railroad office and was washing his hands in one corner, when two masked men stepped in at the door. They told him to throw up his hands, one of them presenting a pistol. He turned his head and looked up at them, and the man fired. The ball struck him in the chin, passing through his throat and breaking his neck. He died almost instantly. It is supposed that it was the intention of the desperadoes to make Hinckley open the safe, and that the pistol went off prematurely. The men turned around immediately and made off, without taking anything from the office. Parties are out in different directions hunting them and are in hopes of soon finding the guilty parties.

“Deceased was a fine young man, about 20 years old, son of Arza Hinckley at Corn Creek, Utah.

“The general impression is that, as is announced by the dispatch, robbery was intended, and that the pistol discharged prematurely. This theory is born[e] out by the face that the men decamped immediately afterwards. One report, however, has it that the wife of Mr. Hinckley, who was about to retire to bed, and who was in an adjoining room, heard the man who held the pistol say, as he shot, ‘There, damn you!’ and then leave. In view of the good reputation borne by Hinckley, and the fact that he was known to have no enemies, the most reasonable supposition for the murder is that robbery was intended; that the robbers calculated to make Hinckley throw up his hands until they secured him, and that they would then force him to open the safe. The premature discharge of the pistol, however, filled them with alarm, and they departed.

“A special train conveyed Sheriff Homer and Prosecuting Attorney Crawford of Idaho, to the scene, and Superintendent G.W. Thatcher himself went to Franklin to aid in discovering the culprits. There is no question about the accuracy of the details of the murder itself, as all was witnessed by the boy, James Salter, who was in bed in the room where the shooting was done; but, while a general search is being made, the chances are that the perpetrators will never be known unless they reveal themselves.”

Thomas J. McDevitt, M.D., the author of “Idaho’s Malad Valley, a History”, indicates that the old Oneida County Jail was located east of the former Utah Power & Light Co. office in Malad City. His transcription of the event added a little information as to what happened right after the murder:

“Michael Mooney and Frank Barnes, the men responsible for the murder, fled into the night.
“A $1,000 reward was offered for the capture of the men responsible for the murder. A posse of 75 men scoured the countryside without results. Sheriff Homer and a small posse headed for the upper Portneuf.

“A rancher near Soda Springs, cognizant of the occurrence, was approached by two men looking for a ride to Caribou. The rancher offered them a ride, but instead took them near where Homer and his men were camped. Michael Mooney and Barnes were arrested on suspicion of murder.”

McDevitt indicated that the sheriff encountered a lynching party, but he persuaded them that the men needed to stand trial.

Citing Lena Anken Sexton in “The First Hanging in Idaho”, Southern Idaho Magazine and David L. Crowder in “Tales of Eastern Idaho”, McDevitt said that, “There was little factual evidence that Mooney was the trigger man on the job but that Hinckley’s 17-year-old bride of only a couple of weeks testified that, while in the other room, she heard a gunshot. A man then said, ‘Now you’ve done it! Let’s get out of here!’

“A drape was strung across the courtroom and the defendants made to repeat the statement the girl had heard. She identified Mooney.”

Also citing Lena Anken Sexto in “The First Hanging in Idaho”, Southern Idaho Magazine, McDevitt tells of how Sheriff Homer described Mooney’s last hours:

“When the day of execution came, he (Mooney) was calm. I asked him if he wanted any spiritual advisor. His answer was, ‘Hell no, I don’t want any damn preacher’s prayer for me.’

“When preparations were complete a deputy about Mooney’s size tested the rope for strength and got into the coffin to find it was a ‘pretty good fit’. Twenty leading citizens, three doctors and the jail officials were invited to the affair as required by law.

When the hour for execution arrived, I notified Mooney. He came out of his cell and walked toward the scaffold. I reached out my hand to assist him up the steps but he pushed my hand away and said he was able to walk alone. I put the rope around his neck and adjusted the knot while Deputy Fisher tied his legs together and his hands beind his back. Mooney became a little impatient and said, ‘Hurry up, Sheriff, and do this.’ And I said, ‘Don’t get in a hurry, we’ll get you there on time. Don’t get excited.’ He answered, ‘I’m not excited. I don’t mind being hung any more than I would to sit down to a square meal.’

“I then pulled the black cap down over his face and stepped back and gave the signal.

“In seventeen minutes the man was cut down and pronounced dead. His body was turned over to the city sexton for burial with instructions to bury him outside the cemetery.”

In an issue of “Welcome to Malad”, “The Idaho Enterprise” in 2008, the late Donald Stephens Evans provided a story entitled “Emily Jane – Life in The Late 1800’s”. This story was taken from several original letters between David L. Evans and his new bride, Emily Jane Mecham. On December 31, 1882, Emily Jane wrote to her husband about the hanging of Michael Mooney, quoting as follows:

“Well, Mooney saw his last day Friday, the 29th. Duvander hung him for $25.00. Homer went to ask Mooney if he had any choice in the way he should be dressed, but he would do nothing but swear and curse. When they brought him to the scaffold, he was not a bit excited. He told Homer not to get excited, but to put the rope around his neck. He said, ‘I feel just as well as if I were going to a dance, and I will no sooner close my eyes in this world, than I will open them in another.’ The men would get nothing from him. He would not even tell them his age. He said that if spirits could come back, he would visit John Williams again. Some say that he said that Mooney was not his right name, but he would not disgrace his family by telling his name.”

No one knows for sure where Michael Mooney is buried. As indicated in the writing of Sheriff Homer, it was outside the walls of the Malad City Cemetery, but no one seems to know if that refers to the present-day cemetery or an earlier pioneer cemetery. In the article previously cited by Donald Stephens Evans, he said, “The sexton took charge of the body. He was instructed not to bury him in the cemetery. Evidently, a murderer was not to be buried with the good saints.” 

In 2008, the late Tom Palmer and his wife, Edna, unearthed a headstone with the engraving, ‘M.A.M.’ on it. The headstone was found buried about three and a half feet deep at the Palmer residence in Pleasantview. The Palmer property was homesteaded in 1864 by Circle Smith. Palmer’s great-grandfather purchased the property from Smith. Because the marker was not significant to anyone in the Palmer family, a story was published in The Idaho Enterprise to see if anyone could solve the mystery of its significance. Don S. Evans answered their inquiry and indicated that he believed that the marker could be the headstone of Michael A. Mooney. Evans indicated that it still left the questions of “How did the marker end up on the Palmer property”, and “Who would have purchased a marker for Mooney?” One other question that arises is that in none of the historical accounts of the Mooney incident was it indicated that Mooney had a middle initial of “A”.
Regarding Frank Barnes, according to newspaper accounts, both men were taken before Justice William L. Webster in Franklin. Barnes confessed but said that it was Mooney that instigated the crime and had accidently killed Hinckley. The men were brought to trial in Malad, because it was the county seat of Oneida County. Mooney was tried first and found guilty of murder in the first degree. Barnes was tried next. He pled guilty to murder in the second degree.

Barnes was sentenced to 15 years in the Idaho penitentiary; and, as indicated, Mooney was sentenced to be hung, and that sentence was carried out on December 29, 1882. Many people believed that Mooney, being a young man, was framed, but it could not be proven at that time. In an article in the Malad Idaho Stake Centennial book entitled “Historic Bell Has Tolled Since 1884,” by Miss H. [Hattie] E. Morgan, she said:

“At one time, it (the bell on Presbyterian Church Hill) tolled for funerals. Its most tragic performance in this respect occurred one January day in the early eighties when it tolled for the passing soul of Michael Mooney, first white man to be executed under the law in the territory of Idaho. That was a black day in the annals of our town. We resented the execution taking place in Malad, and we sympathized with Mooney because of his youth, and because his conviction rested principally upon the testimony of his companion, an older man who had turned “state’s” evidence. And our futile sympathy voiced that day by the tolling bell was some years later fully justified when this man, Barno (sic), shortly before his death, confessed that he, and not Mooney, had fired the fatal shot.” 
In his story in his book “Idaho’s Malad Valley, a History”, Thomas E. McDevitt, points out that Colen Sweeten, a Malad historian of renown, researched the supposed Barnes confession all the way to the Idaho State Penitentiary. He found no evidence that Barnes ever made a deathbed confession or, for that matter, any other kind of confession.
An interesting sidenote, in a report of the Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho for the years 1921 and 1922, indicates that the Historical Society accepted a donation from T.J. Evans of the iron shackles he had made for Michael Mooney.

Even though local historians indicate that Mooney was the first white man executed in the Territory of Idaho, there are seven others listed, in “U.S.A. Executions – 1607 – 1976” starting on March 4, 1864 – three in Nez Perce, two in Ada, one in Boise, one in Owyhee and one in an unknown place. Thomas McDevitt indicates in his book that an Indian man, Tambiago, was executed in Malad City; however, only his trial took place in Malad City. He was executed in Ada County.