Snaring the Murdering Range Rider
by Merle A. Gill, Criminologist
As told to Dan T. Kelliher
Cumulus clouds, floating lazily across the face of the April moon, threw fleeting shadows into the prison yard. A guard on duty at one of the towers yawned sleepily in the warm breeze. At a distant farmhouse, a dog bayed lonesomely.
Keeping in the shadows, an overall-clad man moved stealthily toward the great wall of the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing. As the moon shone through the clouds, the skulking figure was silhouetted for a brief moment against the black background of the dark, foreboding prison.
The guard's hand, starting to his mouth to suppress a yawn, stopped in mid-motion. His heavy eyes banished the desirer for sleep with an incredulous start. No one, the guard knew, should have been in the prison yard at the eerie hour of midnight. But the guard remained inactive for a moment, unwilling to give an unwarranted alarm.
The skulking figure in the yard had seen the guard's start, sensed his uncertainty, knew that discovery was imminent. He crossed the few intervening steps to the wall in great leaps. A rope ladder, which he had carried concealed under his "jumper", now flashed into view.
On one end of that ladder the skulker had fastened two hooks. Now he sent them hurtling through the air toward the top of the wall. The guard saw the flash of steel in the moonlight as the hooks made an arc to settle securely upon the wall. No longer did he hesitate. His rifle came to his shoulder.
"Halt" he cried, in a voice that carried across the deserted prison yard.
Other guards, in other towers spaced along the top of the great wall, came to life as their companion's voice reached them in the midnight hush.
The fleeing man did not heed the warning. A shot crashed out, a second. Still the overall-clad man did not obey that peremptory command.
The guards knew the
man for what he was--a convict "going over the hill," the "hill" being
that great, gray
wall which had penned him in from the outside world. Now he was making a desperate break for liberty. Little did
the guards think, as they raised their guns, fired, missed and fired again, that the escaping man was starting along
a road of crime that would culminate in murder. They did not know his name, nor the number which had been
substituted for his name on the prison records, as they fired at him.
Up and up he climbed now, while the guards' bullets whistled about his head. Presently, his arms shot upward, not in surrender but in a desperate groping motion as he sought to grasp the top of the wall. His fingers came in contact with it; he seized it and held on desperately.
Leaden slugs pre--inged against the stone wall as the convict heaved his body upon it. The guards were bearing down toward him. For a fleeting heartbeat his dark form was outlined atop the wall in the bright moonlight. Another bullet whined ominously past his head. The guards were shooting closer now--shooting to kill. Bullets from several towers were whining across the shadowy prison yard toward the convict's outlined figure. They struck the wall at his feet, ricocheted and dropped in the prison yard, spent and useless.
Came a moment during which the convict perched precariously on the wall top. Then, like a huge bird--a bird of the night and darkness--his arms outstretched as if to welcome his hard-earned freedom, the convict leaped. He struck the ground running, scuttled into a clump of undergrowth and disappeared.
There followed the mournful wail of the siren. In the cell-blocks, toil-weary men stirred restlessly in their sleep. They knew the meaning of that long wail. Some one of their number had "gone over the hill". As is always the case when that siren sounds, hundreds of lips moved in silent prayer that the pursuers of that skulking fugitive would be unsuccessful.
While guards beat through the bushes into which the convict had disappeared, the men in the cell-blocks speculated on the identity of the man who had escaped. I learned his identity, perhaps, before those others from whose companion ship he had fled.
As a ballistician who frequently was called by Chief of Detectives Thomas J. Higgins of the Kansas City Police Department, I had gone to Headquarters that morning following the escape of the Lansing prisoner. I learned there, from information telephoned to Chief Higgins by the prison authorities, that the fugitive was Chester Morris, alias "Bud" Clark, twenty-two years old, who had been received at the prison from Cheyenne County, Kansas, July 11th, 1931, to serve a term of ten to fifty years for bank robbery.
From the information given to me by Chief Higgins, I visualized that scene of the previous night when "The Kid", as Higgins called Morris, made his bid for liberty.
I learned also, that
in the brief time he had been confined behind Lansing's gray wall, Morris
had become known as a "lone wolf". That was because he had held himself
aloof, seldom talking and not confiding to any of his prison-mates that
he planned to escape. The prison grapevine--that system of communication
carried on among the prisoners--had carried no hint, insofar as the
authorities were able to learn in a hurried check-up of Morris' closest cellmates--of the contemplated break.
The investigation disclosed that none of Morris' fellow-prisoners on that night of April 14th, 1932,--a scant ten months after he had been received at the prison--knew that he had evaded the watchful eyes of the guards when the convicts were marched to their cells.
They did not know that he had fashioned his bedclothes to resemble the recumbent form of a man. Nor did the guard who made the final check for the night of the cell-block in which Morris had been confined, know that what he thought was the form of a sleeping man was, in reality, the bedclothing allotted to that man.
Neither did I know that morning of April 15th, when I talked to Chief Higgins in his office in Kansas City, and heard him tell his men of the escape of a "con at Lansing", that I was to be drawn into the case.
It was some time later before I learned the story of his travels after he leaped from that high prison wall while the bullets of the guards whined menacingly about his head.
He reached the bushes just outside the wall and kept running. Presently, he came to a fence--one of the old "stake-and-rider" type, now extinct except in a few rural Kansas communities--and stood poised upon it, arms outstretched like a hawk's wings to maintain his balance, while he caught his breath in painful gasps.
As he stood there, he saw a horse lying on the ground, too tried from it's day's work at the plow, apparently to take flight. When the animal did snort and come to its feet, Morris hurtled his form through the air and landed upon its back. The feat was nothing uncommon for the young convict for he had been a range rider for a Wyoming rancher before he turned to bank robbery in Kansas.
"I knew only one direction to go", Morris told me afterwards. "That was in the direction opposite to the one from which I could hear the wail of the prison siren. I simply dug my heels into that nag's ribs and headed away from the siren, the sound of which now was becoming fainter and fainter."
As he rode across that field he could picture the scene behind him: Guards calling to each other as they beat through the bushes; moonbeams glinting on rifle barrels as they explored this or that potential hiding place; voices warning all and sundry to shoot to kill if the quarry was sighted.
"I told myself that I was not going back--that I had a one-way ticket. I knew that I would face from ten to fifty years in 'stir' if they caught me. I wouldn't get an opportunity to apply for, or obtain, a parole. When I made my break for liberty and disobeyed the 'screw's' order to halt, I put all that behind me."
Miles separated Morris from the prison when the first gray streaks of dawn brought the cell-blocks to life that morning of April 15th. The prisoners left their bunks to give the state another day of labor in payment of their debt to society. With guards on every hand, they marched with measured steps to the dining room. One place was vacant--the place of a man known to the majority of them as "The Kid". He had been one of their number at supper the evening before. The convicts looked at his vacant place and knew, then, that it was Morris who had "gone over the hill" at the midnight hour.
The prison officials,
through belated reports, gained vague information concerning the fugitive's
route. They learned he had visited a farmer's home. The story
as told by the farmer was that he had got up at daybreak and performed
such chores as were necessary before starting to plow his fields.
In a closet in his home he had left his Sunday suit, his hat, his shoes.
The farmer's wife had busied herself with her chickens. When she
returned to the house, she discovered a visitor had been there during
her absence. Her husband's clothes were gone, as were his hat and shoes. She notified the Leavenworth Chief of Police by telephone, and he, in turn, called the prison authorities.
Guards were sent to the vicinity. On their way, they encountered another farmer who told them one of his horses had strayed during the night. The man could not understand how the horse escaped from the field in which he put it. The gate was locked when he went to the field to get the horse. It was when the guards from the penitentiary told him of Morris' escape that he decided the convict had stolen his horse.
The animal was found some miles farther down the highway, where it had been abandoned by the fugitive. Then the guards reached the home of the man whose clothes were stolen. They searched the entire neighborhood, and their search was rewarded.
A blue denim cap and prison "jumpers" were found in the undergrowth near by. The heavy, prison-made brogans which Morris had worn, were found nearer the house.
Morris had sneaked into the house while the farmer and his wife were absent. He had made his way to the closet where the farmer's suit hung, appropriated it and the shoes and hat, and sneaked back to the underbrush, where he discarded his prison uniform for the stolen clothing. There where the discarded garments were found, all trace of Morris was lost.
I had forgotten the escaped convict in the press of other business. Every day I visited Kansas City Police Headquarters for the purpose of examining guns and bullets for my friend, Chief Higgins, who had told me of Morris' escape. None of the Kansas City detectives had picked up the fugitive, although they were on the alert.
On the morning of March 1st, 1933, when I went to Headquarters, Chief Higgins handed me a letter from Sheriff W. T. (Bill) Jones, of Hill City, Graham County, Kansas. The letter contained a bullet, which the sheriff wrote, had been taken from the body of George Hocker, fifty-five years old, a wealthy farmer, who for years had made his home alone on his farm near Hill City.
Sheriff Jones informed me that Hocker had been murdered the night of January 27th, 1933. Hocker had been beaten and then shot. One bullet had struck the farmer in the back. Two others found lodgement in his head.
Indications were, the sheriff wrote, that the motive for Hocker's murder was robbery. From the appearance of his house, someone had ransacked the place. Bureau drawers had been opened and the contents strewn on the floor. Hocker, apparently, had endeavored to seize his own revolver with which to battle the intruder in his home. The weapon, relatives of the slain man told Sheriff Jones, always had been kept in one of the bureau drawers.
But, when Hocker's body was discovered, the gun way lying under him on the bed.
Another significant matter to which the sheriff's letter called attention, was the fact that around one of Hocker's legs, a rope had been tightly drawn.
The rope, strangely enough, had been fashioned in a hangman's knot. There were no clues, Sheriff Jones wrote me, except the three bullets found in Hocker's body, one of which, as I said, was enclosed in the letter from the officer.
But Sheriff Jones gave me other information. He wrote that when he was notified of the murder, he drove to the Hocker farm with Undersheriff C. H. Thompson, County Attorney J. C. Parker and Doctor J. A. Bundy, county coroner. Doctor Bundy, after an examination of the body, said Hocker had been dead four or five days when he was found.
No one had seen a stranger loitering in the vicinity of the Hocker home. Discovery of the body came through a rural mail carrier working out of Bogue, Kansas. This carrier, Minor Young, had deposited a letter and several newspapers in Hocker's mail-box the morning of January 28th. That was on Saturday. The following Monday, he again stopped at the mail-box and was surprised to learn that the mail he previously had deposited there had not been removed.
Tuesday, Young made no delivery to the Hocker box, but on Wednesday he stopped again. The Saturday and Monday mail still was there. This seemed unusual to Young, and a short time later he stopped at the home of Hocker's brother, Charles, where he made inquiries concerning George Hocker.
Charles Hocker had not known of any trip his brother contemplated that would have kept him away from home for so long a time. The information Young gave him concerning the undisturbed letters in the mail box, caused Charles to go to his brother's home, where he found him dead.
Sheriff Jones wrote that so far as the brother could determine, nothing was missing, despite the topsy-turvy condition of the house. Two Buick cars which the victim owned were in his garage, and the key to the garage in his trousers pocket.
Sheriff Jones had
called in a finger-print expert in the hope that prints would be found
on the rope with which Hocker had been tied. But that hope was futile.
When news of the murder spread over the country-side, men, women, and children
whom George Hocker had befriended on more than one occasion, flocked to
his home to view the body of their friend. They fingered the doorknob
which the slayer had turned when he entered the house. They picked
up the rope and examined it. And the finger-print
expert reported to the sheriff that he was unable to get a clear set of prints because of the many which had been left behind by well-meaning but curious and thoughtless neighbors of the murdered man.
On the same day I
received the letter, I telephone Sheriff Jones that I would examine the
bullet sent me, as quickly as possible. I advanced a theory that
the hangman's knot in the rope indicated that a criminal who already had
served time, or persons who came into contact with criminals, had fashioned
that knot. It was hardly likely, I told the sheriff, that residents
of Hill City or
the surrounding agricultural communities would be familiar with such a knot.
Then I set to work on the bullet. I determined quickly that it was a Remington .38-caliber, 150 bullet, known to the trade as a .38-long. Having ascertained the caliber, I then placed the slug under a microscopic devise used to determine the spiral twist of the rifling impressions left on the surface of the bullet by the barrel of the death weapon.
The pitchometer, which is the twist-measuring device, indicated certain degrees of twist that scaled out to a 16-inch left hand twist. The next step was to measure the width of a land impression. The device used for this work is known as a filar micrometer. The width obtained of the one normal land impression on the bullet indicated, together with the spiral twist of rifling, that the gun used in the slaying was a .38-caliber Colt's revolver.
Standards obtained by measurement of rifling impressions on fired bullets are compared with known gun standards. One must also be familiar with the general performance of bullets and weapons in order to use the combination of measurements to identify weapons.
I wired Sheriff Jones,
telling him of the type of gun the slayer had used, and advised him that
he should look for a weapon that apparently had been kept around a damp
farmhouse. I was quite certain the gun had not been purchased recently
from a pawnshop, since pawnbrokers, as a rule, keep the guns they have
for sale well oiled. I added that I believed the slayer was someone
who had spent some time in the vicinity of Hocker's home, since, from the
information given to me by the sheriff, it seemed hardly likely a stranger
would enter the house and commit murder in the belief money was concealed
premises. I had learned that Hocker was reputed to keep a large sum of money in his house, and that seemed to me to
indicate that someone in the neighborhood was guilty of the murder.
On March 3rd, I received a second bullet from Sheriff Jones. Examination disclosed that it was not a mate of the first bullet sent to me. I immediately informed the sheriff that this bullet had not been fired from the gun that caused Hocker's death. It was then I learned that the sheriff, not fully convinced of the value of forensic ballistics, had sent me the bullet to test my ability. The second bullet was a .38-caliber Colt's, but had been fired from a weapon belonging to James Corn, Greenburg, Kansas, undersheriff.
It developed that Corn, shortly after George Hocker's body was discovered, had approached a stranger for the purpose of questioning him. The man, noting the sheriff's badge as he approached, suddenly had whipped out his own gun, with which he covered the officer. Then he had taken Corn's weapon and handcuffs. He forced the undersheriff to get into his motor car and act as his chauffeur in his flight from the town in which the officer approached him. Then, just before parting with the chagrined deputy, the stranger fired several shots from Corn's gun into a tree stump.
"Just keeping in practice," he boasted. "As long as I can shoot straight, I'll be taking a one-way ride. My gun is my one-way ticket to keep me from returning to places I don't like. This is one of them."
Corn reported the incident to Sheriff Jones, with no thought that the man might have had any connection with the Hocker murder. He believed the stranger was a rum-runner. But Sheriff Jones, overlooking no possible clues, began making discreet inquiries concerning the presence of strangers in the vicinity of the Hocker home at the time of the murder, or shortly before. It was then that he learned a man named Morris had been the guest of relatives in the neighborhood.
With that lead to work on, the sheriff soon discovered that Lansing prison authorities were seeking a convict named Morris, who had "gone over the hill" the preceding April. The escaped convict, Sheriff Jones was told, was a young man, known to some of his prison mates as "The Kid". He was regarded as a desperate criminal, the sheriff was told by those seeking him.
The sheriff remembered that hangman's noose, which had been tied on George Hocker's leg, and his belief grew that the slayer was a criminal or one who associated with criminals as I had indicated.
Morris, however, no longer was in the vicinity. But, as Sheriff Jones pressed his inquiry, he learned the fugitive had traded a revolver to a man living in the Hill City community just before he disappeared. The sheriff questioned this man and was told the gun had been involved in a second trade. Then, the third owner of the gun was found.
The latter, unaware that the gun was believed to have been used by Hocker's slayer, readily admitted ownership of the gun. The second man, the sheriff discovered, was distantly related to the convict who had gone "over the hill" at Lansing. It was also learned that this relative had used the gun in target practice and had fired a number of bullets from it into a tree stump near his home.
Sheriff Jones and Undersheriff Thompson did not reveal their reason for interest in the weapon in question. They went to the tree stump the man indicted, and, with their pocket knives, removed several of the slugs. Then, bringing with them the gun and those recovered slugs, they came to my Kansas City laboratory on March 12th with County Attorney Parker.
Examination of the gun and slugs convinced me that the Graham County authorities had at last found the weapon that brought death to George Hocker. The markings on the bullets removed from the tree stump were identical with those taken from Hocker's body. I told the sheriff if he could find the man who had the weapon in his possession the night of January 27th, 1933, he should immediately arrest him for the murder of the Graham County farmer.
Sheriff Jones left
the gun with me for the purpose of tracing ownership. Having previously
identified one of the bullets as having come from a Colt's police positive
weapon. I set about tracing the gun from the time it left the manufacturer.
I learned from the factory that it had been sold to a sporting goods dealer
in Denver. From the dealer, I learned that it had been delivered
to the Denver Police Department. From the department heads, I ascertained
that it had been stolen from the home of the
policeman to whom it was assigned. I also was told that if the weapon in my possession was the one stolen in Denver, I would find the letters "D.P.D." stamped on its butt.
Previously I had noticed that the butt of the gun turned over to me by Sheriff Jones was wrapped with tape about the grips. I removed this tape and found the letters mentioned by the Denver Police. I made another discovery at that time also: The butt was splintered! The Graham County authorities and I had previously thought it was wrapped with tape to insure a firmer grasp for the man using it. Now we felt reasonably certain it had been wrapped by Hocker's murderer after he had splintered it with the blow he dealt to the slain man's head.
Now definitely certain
that Chester Morris, alias Bud Clark, was the man he sought, Sheriff Jones
obtained a picture of the fugitive from the Kansas State Penitentiary authorities
and circularized the country with Morris' description. Shortly afterwards,
as he continued his investigation in the vicinity of Hill City, the sheriff
learned that Morris at one time had worked as a range
rider for George Ginther, a Wyoming rancher. Ginther's ranch was near Laramie.
The Laramie sheriff was notified and was asked to visit the Ginther ranch and make a search for the fugitive. He was warned that Morris was a desperate man, and that no chances should be taken with him.
With two deputies, the Wyoming sheriff began making inquiries before proceeding to the isolated Ginther home, a lonely cabin in the mountains north of Laramie. He learned that a man answering Morris' description had fled along the trail toward the cabin when he and a companion were discovered burning a stolen motor car near the ranch.
With that information, the sheriff and his deputies decided to waste no more time making inquiries. One morning in March, shortly after daybreak, they approached the cabin. Without knocking, they pushed the door open and entered. As it swung inward the sheriff realized someone was behind the door.
Quickly he slammed it shut, and found himself confronted by the fugitive. His gun flashed up as he commanded: "Hands up"!
The youthful desperado complied. Apparently he was unarmed.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "What do you want?"
"I'm the sheriff of this county," that official answered. "I want you, Chester Morris, for the murder of George Hocker near Hill City, Kansas, the night of January ------"
Morris' hand flashed to his armpit and came out with the weapon he had concealed there. Before he could fire, one of the deputies who had accompanied the sheriff to the cabin, brought his gun down on Morris' head.
The fugitive staggered,
his fingers loosening their grasp on his pistol. It clattered to
the floor with a metallic sound and the second deputy pounced upon it.
Then began a terrific struggle. The Wyoming officials wanted to send
Morris back to Graham County alive. For that reason they did not
use their guns to send bullets crashing into his body, but clubbed him
and used their
Morris fought like a man bereft of reason. The stove was overturned, its pipe falling to the floor and throwing soot over the combatants. A chair, which Morris picked up, and with which he struck at the sheriff, was demolished on the table when the sheriff dodged. The interior of the cabin almost was wrecked before one of the deputies grasped the convict's arms from behind and pinioned him until the sheriff could slip on handcuffs over his wrists.
Cursing viciously, Morris was mounted on a horse and the journey started.
At the Laramie Jail,
the prisoner was searched, forced to bathe under the vigilant eyes of deputies,
and placed in a cell by himself. That night, two deputy-sheriffs
on guard at the jail heard the unmistakable sound of a saw biting into
listened until they could learn the source of that sound and then rushed toward Morris' cell.
The prisoner heard them coming. He threw himself on his bunk and feigned sleep, but a search of his cell revealed three saw blades. The dupties learned then that they had overlooked the blades when they searched him. He had carried them into the jail--one hidden in his hair and the others taped to the soles of his feet.
Sheriff Jones was notified of Morris' arrest. He and Undersheriff Thompson immediately started for Wyoming. Several days later they returned to Kansas with Morris, handcuffed and wearing shackles.
The prisoner was placed in the Graham County Jail. He was charged with murder, and his trial was set for May 15th. Then, in the latter part of April, he began complaining of a pain in his arm. He fashioned a "sling" in which he carried the allegedly ailing member.
Sheriff Jones was suspicious. He could find no infection in the convict's arm. Neither could the physician whom he called to examine Morris. The sheriff warned his dupties that at no time was Morris to be permitted to leave his cell. He was not to be fed at any time when the sheriff was not in the jail building.
On the night of May 2nd, when Morris' meal was taken to him, jail attendants did not open the door of his cell. They saw him lying on his bunk, apparently in pain, his arm covered with a blanket. The two guards, Eugene Jones, son of the sheriff, and Charles Higer, reported to Sheriff Jones, who investigated.
As the sheriff entered the cell, Morris leaped from his bunk and attempted to strike the officer with an iron bar. The bar had been twisted off a collapsible table in the cell. In the brief struggle, during which the sheriff was struck on the hand, Morris was subdued by Jones and the two guards who rushed to his assistance.
Three days before he was to come to trial, Morris sneered at the sheriff when the latter brought him his breakfast.
"You an't got a thing on me." he told Sheriff Jones. "I'll have to go back to 'stir' and maybe get a few extra years for makin' that break, but when I get out you'll get yours. You haven't got a thing on me on this Hocker croak."
The sheriff smiled at him. "Did you ever hear of a chap named Gill?" he asked.
"Who's Gill?" Morris sneered again. "Another screw?"
"No," Jones told him. "He's the man whose evidence will send you to the pen for life for killing George Hocker. He has placed the finger on you beyond any question of doubt."
thought the sheriff was making conversation in the hope the prisoner would
say something that could be used against him when the trial started.
He grinned impudently. Then Jones spoke again:
"He's a ballistics expert. He has that gun you stole in Denver--the
one with which you killed Hocker. He knows all about that gun and
you, and he'll be here to tell the
jury about it. I'm expecting him here this afternoon."
"Well, I'll be da--!" Morris left the sentence suspended in the air. The grin left his face and for a moment he studied the sheriff as if trying to determine whether Jones spoke the truth. Then he said, more quietly: "How'd Gill know I was in Denver? How'd he know I stole a gun?"
The sheriff told him of my investigation and what I had learned from the bullets he had fired into George Hocker's body.
are pretty sore about your killing him." Sheriff Jones informed his prisoner.
"There'll be a lot of them in the courtroom at your trial. My deputies
and I will be watching. They may start something; but you needn't
be afraid, Chester, we'll
The sheriff turned and marched away from Morris' cell. The prisoner stood gazing after him.
Several hours later, after I had met the sheriff and had gone with him to the jail, we learned that Morris wanted to see Jones. We went to his cell, where Jones introduced me to his prisoner.
Like a bolt out of the blue sky, Morris said suddenly: "I guess I might as well kick in. You've got me cold. I croaked Hocker."
The break had come without warning, and knowing he had committed himself on the one important point, he became talkative and went on to tell of his escape from Lansing and of the crime trail for which he was responsible after he leaped from the prison wall into the bushes.
"When I stood on the fence and saw that old horse lying there on the ground," he said, "I felt that the animal was heaven sent. I leaped on his back and started across the pasture. I got to the fence on the opposite side of the field, opened the gate and started down the highway. That horse's hoofs went clippety-clop, clippety- clop, and seemed to be singing to me like a train's wheels do. I told myself that I had a one-way ticket from stir."
"When I came to a farmhouse it wasn't very light, but I could see the farmer already in his field plowing. A woman was fooling around with some chickens. I knew I had to get rid of my prison clothes, so I went in, stole a suit and ditched the prison garb. Then I hitch-hiked to Beloit, Kansas, keeping in the woods most of the way because I didn't know how far the screws had come after me, or whether they'd telephoned ahead. There was an automobile parked on the street in Beloit and the owner had left the keys in it. I stole the car.
"I drove away in it and came to a town called Bogue. There was a river there and I decided to get rid of the hot car for fear some country constable would be picking me up to ask questions. I saw an incline leading to the river, so I pointed the car down it, opened her up and jumped. The last I saw of that car was when it plunged into the river.
"I started walking then, and I kept going until dusk. I don't know the name of the town--it was one of those hick burgs where the folks use kerosene lights. One of those 9 o'clock towns, you know. Why, I could hear crickets chirping and frogs croaking while I waited for the town to fall asleep.
"I didn't know whether there was a town marshal there or not, but I took a chance and robbed three joints there that night. Two of 'em were general stores, and the other was a post office. I didn't get much dough, but I did get cold feet when I realized I'd robbed a post office. Having the screws and the cops after a guy is one thing, but causing Uncle Sam's boys to start trailing you is another, and I got plenty scared over that post-office job.
"That's why I beat it on over the state line into Colorado. I prowled a few joints--houses and small stores--and then got to Denver. I prowled a house there--that's where I got the gun that croaked Hocker. But all the time, I kept worrying about the Feds. I was sacred they were after me for that post-office robbery, and I decided to go back to Kansas where I had relatives.
"On the way I came to a town called Belle Plain. The Rock Island runs through that burg, and while I was hanging around the depot I saw the agent seated in his office talking to a mail carrier. I decided to pull a heist.
"I went in, pulled the gun I'd copped in Denver and covered the two guys. I told 'em to stick 'em up.
"Those birds were plenty scared and they grabbed the sky. I got some money out of the railroad's cash drawer and took a billfold from the mail carrier. There was a mail sack there, too, but I didn't touch it. I was afraid I was in bad already for pulling that post-office job.
"I lammed before that ticket agent and mail carrier could organize a posse, and then I went to Zurich, Kansas. I saw a car there and decided to steal it, so I could drive to Hill City where my relatives lived.
"When I got there, my relatives didn't know anything about my trouble with the law and they made me welcome. I just stayed around, doing a little work when it was necessary to help out, and spending a lot of time shooting at targets.
"But I was running short of money and when I heard some of the folks mention George Hocker's name, I started asking questions. Hocker was supposed to be wealth and to have a lot of jack hidden some place around his home.
I didn't say anything to my relatives about what I had in mind. The night of January 27th, 1933. I went to bed at the usual time and pretended to go to sleep. Even snored to make the folks think I was sleeping.
When everybody in
the house was asleep, I got up and sneaked out. I went to Hocker's
house, and the door was
unlocked. I'd heard my folks say that Hocker always boasted about his latch-string being on the outside and everybody in the community being welcome to come to his house anytime of the day or night. I guess he wasn't thinking about me when he extended that invitation.
"Anyway, when I went in, I could see him sleep in a chair. He'd been reading. There was a kerosene lamp on the table at his side and before I could get the door closed, the wind blew the light out. I could see my way across to him, though, because he's banked the fire for the night and it gave out a little flickering glow that guided my steps.
"I touched Hocker's arm, and shoved my rod in his ribs.
" 'Get your hands up high!' I told him. 'If you start any funny moves, I'll burn you down.'
"I guess the old man wasn't fully awake, but he knew he was in danger and his hands went up. He couldn't see me when I told him to stand up, but he could feel my rod prodding his ribs.
" 'What's the meaning of this?' he asked. 'Who are you? What do you want?"
"I told him to shut-up--that I'd do whatever talking was done and that if he wanted to live he'd go over and light that lamp. The fellow was pretty scared. I guess, because he fumbled a long time with a match before he finally got the lamp going. I wasn't scared because the man could see my face. I knew he wasn't goin' to live to tell anybody about me.
"He asked me again who I was, and I kidded him. I told him I was "Pretty Boy" Floyd's twin brother. I told him I wanted all the money he had around the place and asked him where he kept it hid.
"He told me that he only had a little money--that he kept his dough in the bank. He reached toward his pocket. I didn't know what he was goin' after and I shoved my gun a little harder into his ribs. Then he jumped toward a bureau drawer and I jumped him. Some chairs were overturned, and I whammed him one on the head with the gun. I didn't want to kill him until I'd learned where he kept his dough, but that smack on his head just sorta dazed him and he kept on fighting.
"He swung around and away from me, and I was afraid he was going to reach that drawer where I suspected he had a gun. I shot him the back between the shoulder blades. He staggered and I let him have two more bullets--in the head.
"But even then he'd managed to reach the drawer and his finger closed over his gun. He pulled it from the drawer, but he dropped it on the floor. Then I realized he was dead.
"I don't know what
made me do it, but I picked him up and placed him on his bed. I put
the gun under him. Then I saw a piece of rope there in the room and
I put it around his leg. I thought it'd be funny to make a hangman's
noose of that rope, knowing that even if I was caught I couldn't be sentenced
to death in Kansas. So I tied him up that way, an' beat it away from
his house. I
got back into bed there where my folks lived an' nobody knew I'd been gone. I didn't' know about that stuff called ballistics an' I didn't think I'd left any clues that would cause me to get pinched for the croak. That's all there is to it".
When Morris finished, Sheriff Jones asked him if he was ready to make a signed confession. But the slayer refused. He asked me to show him the bullets taken from Hocker's body, and when he viewed them, he remarked:
"So these three hunks of lead are goin' to give me a round-trip ticket to stir, hun? All right, Sheriff. Give me a piece of paper and a pencil an' I'll cough up. Then you can take me before the judge an' get it over with."
Sheriff Jones furnished Morris with writing materials, and he wrote the following:
I hereby am making a confession in regard to the murder of said George
Hocker. I am writing this confession of my own free will, and
I admit that (by myself) willingly and willfully shot and killed
one said George Hocker on the 27th of Jan., 1933.
(Signed) CHESTER MORRIS.
Arraigned before District Judge Hall, Morris stood calmly while County Attorney Parker explained to the court that Morris had signed a confess and had expressed a desire to plead guilty and "get it over with".
Judge Hall asked the prisoner if he realized that the charge against him was for murder in the first degree and that, if he entered a plea of guilty to that charge, it was within the province of the court to sentence him to the penitentiary for the remainder of his natural life.
Morris replied in
the affirmative. Then the county attorney briefly reviewed for the judge
the history of Morris' crime, and gave a summary of the testimony I expected
to give concerning the bullets I had examined. Kansas law permits this
procedure, so formally asking Morris if he desired to enter a plea of guilty
and receiving an affirmative answer, Judge Hall sentenced him
to spend the remainder of his life in the prison at Lansing, where, thirteen months before, he had "gone over the wall."
He was making the trip now because three bullets fired into the body of elderly George Hocker were identical with those fired into tree stump on a Kansas farm.
"But I'll get out," Morris boasted as Sheriff Jones and Undersheriff Thompson rushed him to the penitentiary to avoid mob violence. "I'll go over the hill again. And when I do, there'll be nothing but a one-way ticket for me. No round trip."