Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Trail of Jack Simpkins - Justice Byron's Johnson's take on those letters...was it the mysterious and missing L.J. "Jack" Simpkins?

This is a continuation of last Saturday's post Was That Harry Orchard In the Idaho Pen? It pertains to the letters from Orchard's prison file that were provided courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society. You will want to take a look at those if you have not yet done so.

Below is an excerpt from the IPTV interview of retired Justice Byron Johnson (BJ) that mentions those letters. Bruce Reichert (BR) of IPTV and the Producer of Assassination: Idaho's Trial of the Century is the interviewer. See the full text at: Byron Johnson Interview
BR: Now, apparently there are some who wonder if the right man was imprisoned for the murder of the former governor.
BJ: Several months ago, while researching the Haywood trial in the archives of the Idaho Historical Society here in Boise, I went through the prison file of Harry Orchard, page by page, and I came across this sheaf of documents that I thought was very puzzling.
The first document was a letter dated May 3rd, 1939, addressed from Belt, Montana, to the Governor of Idaho; and what this letter said in effect was, you've got the wrong man incarcerated in the Idaho State Penitentiary. That's not the real Harry Orchard. The real Harry Orchard bought his freedom for $200,000.00 many years ago, and you ought to find out who is serving in his place.
Well, this befuddled the Idaho authorities a great deal, so they asked for clarification. The individual, whose name was O'Reilly, came back with the explanation that his brother-in-law had died avowedly by being thrown from a horse, but O'Reilly was convinced that a band of criminals in Montana had killed him, and that the leader of that band of criminals was Harry Orchard.
The Idaho authorities just couldn't make heads nor tails out of this despite some evidence that had been presented by Mr. O'Reilly.
As I have contemplated what might be behind this correspondence, I have concluded that there is at least a distinct possibility that Mr. O'Reilly had stumbled on what happened to Jack Simpkins, that Jack Simpkins may have changed identity; and since he is mentioned vaguely — although under the name of Simmons in this correspondence — that maybe Jack Simpkins had secreted himself in Montana, and maybe he did have a band of criminals that he was leading, and that we may actually have the final chapter of the story in this correspondence. And some day I hope maybe somebody will get to the bottom of what Mr. O'Reilly was talking about.
Photo from Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas
And I think the study of this case will never end. I expect a hundred years from now there will be somebody in some medium that has been developed technologically who will be commemorating the 200th anniversary of this trial, who will have new evidence, perhaps based on the correspondence of Mr. O'Reilly from Belt, Montana, perhaps based on new evidence that comes to light from sources that we do not yet know.
One would think after a hundred years we'd plumbed all those sources, but I am surprised every time I begin to look at this freshly, that I find a new interpretation of events, and I think some day we may have even a fuller understanding of all the ingredients of this case. (Courtesy of Idaho Public Television, Assassination: Idaho's Trial of the Century)
Here is a link to an article that appeared in the Idaho Statesman that is also an interview with Justice Johnson and contains some of the same information regarding the mysterious "Jack" Simpkins.
A Mystery From History: Who was behind ex-governor's murder?

And about a 100 years earlier in the New York Times (PDF file): Who Planned the Steunenberg Murder? Look at the photos and you will again find Jack Simpkins.
So what do I think of all this? Maybe tune in next week. I do know that I would sure like to find more information on what happened to L. J. "Jack" Simpkins or Simmons and/or additional evidence from this Mr. O'Reilly or any other parties that that might have been connected to these events. If any of their kinfolk are out there then please dig through those old papers, attics and bureau drawers. Simpkins remains probably the biggest unanswered question in the case surrounding the murder of my great grandfather Governor Steunenberg. If that question could be answered then the $2,000 reward offered by Governor Gooding and the Pinkerton's back in 1906 might even still be available!

No comments: