Friday, July 18, 2008

Still on the Trail of Jack Simpkins............ Disappearing Dynamiter - What Happened to L. J. "Jack" Simpkins?

This is the forth recent post (see June 21, June 28 and July 13 or click on the links in the text below) related to Harry Orchard and more specifically his partner and co-conspirator Jack Simpkins. Evidence indicates Simpkins was in Caldwell, ID at the same time as Orchard but disappeared shorty before or after the murder of Governor Steunenberg. Simpkins was never again seen and little or no information has surfaced in the ensuing 100+ years.

The following article comes from True West Magazine and was written for the July 1988 edition by David Grover, author of Debaters & Dynamiters: The Story of the Haywood Trial. As you may know, David participated as an expert commentator in the production of Assassination: Idaho's Trial of the Century. It was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to meet and chat with him following the premiere at the Egyptian Theater on November 7th, 2007 in Boise. You can see a picture among those at the end of the blog that shows my coveted copy of Debaters & Dynamiters (The Haywood Trial, Notable Trials Version) that I taken to get signed by David and other production participants.

Click on each page to enlarge.

To read the text of David's interview for the IPTV program, click on David Grover Interview.

Was Simpkins murdered to be silenced or did he somehow fade into the population never to heard from again? Perhaps he committed suicide as mentioned briefly in a small hidden article in the New York Times on 6/19/1907. See: On the Trail of Jack Simpkins - A Suicide? Or was he connected in some way with the alleged identify switch that was described my a Mr. O'Reilly in letters discussed in my June 21st post, Was That Harry Orchard In the Idaho Pen? We really don't know and may never know for sure. I do not believe any switch occurred or that anyone but the real Harry Orchard/Albert Horsely spent all those years in the Idaho pen until his death in 1954. Simpkins, a member of the executive committee of the Western Federation of Miner's (WFM), was probably in Caldwell to keep an eye on Orchard and make sure he accomplished the objective―assassinating my great grandfather. However, I imagine Simpkins exited the scene quickly before getting any blood directly on his hands and to avoid arrest.

Justice Byron Johnson expressed some skepticism about Harry Orchard's testimony because of it's "flawlessness" and that perhaps he was giving the wrong or not the whole story about Simpkins. With the utmost respect, I disagree with Byron on that point in terms of the overall accuracy of Orchard's testimony although undoubtedly there are some minor points of dispute or omission. Yes, Orchard had definitely been interviewed, interrogated, rehearsed and deposed as much as any witness in history. Probably so much so that it did often sound like he was reading a "narrative" what with all the repetition of his statements, the original written confession, McClure's magazine publication of it in serial form and the then soon to be released book The Confessions and Autobiography of Harry Orchard. Intelligent, calm, cold and calculating―that was Orchard both when it came to committing murder and giving testimony. He stood up incredibly well to the lengthy cross examination by Elliott Richardson. I do wish that Darrow had been given the opportunity to handle the cross examination and get more of a crack at Orchard but in the end it probably made little difference. Richardson was certainly no slouch in terms of his own legal skills.

Another interesting but tragic event in 1907, with a Haywood Trial and perhaps Jack Simpkins connection, was the murder of Sheriff Harvey Brown of Baker County, Oregon. The sheriff happened to be in Caldwell at the time of the governors assassination and assisted with the investigation. He was scheduled to testify at the Haywood trial when he too was blown up by a dynamite bomb planted at the gate to his home. Sound familiar? perhaps the missing Jack Simpkins had information about or some involvement in that crime too. Read more about it at: 1907 Bomb Murder Of Sheriff Harvey Brown.

Jack Simpkins may have lived out his life hidden somewhere in South America far out of the limelight and under a different name. If their is anyone that Mr. O'Reilly came across that was connected to the murder, it it more likely to have been Jack Simpkins rather then Harry Orchard. I think Judge Johnson and I agree on that point. See the June 28th post: Judge Byron's Johnson's take on those letters...was it the mysterious and missing L.J. "Jack" Simpkins? No direct evidence exists to support either theory.

Click here to again view the full text of Byron's interview with IPTV: Byron Johnson Interview.

Be it dead or alive―Haywood, Moyer and Pettibone certainly did not want McParland to have any chance to question Simpkins regarding the inner workings of the executive committee of the WFM. Either killing Simpkins or paying him off and hiding him away were the available options. Had McParland been given a chance to work on Simpkins as he did Orchard, the corroborating evidence that was missing from the Haywood trial might well have been available and we would know more about the role of all the participants (or at least have more testimony and information to debate) leading up to that evening of December 30th, 1905.

So Jack Simpkins remains an enigma. What exactly was his level of knowledge and participation in this story? Where and why did he disappear never to be seen or heard from again? We may never know all the answers but we have all seen examples of information coming to light many years after a crime has been committed...even 100+ years later. It is what keeps Judge Johnson and I and other amateur historians and sleuths looking for that one shred of evidence―a faded letter or memory―that might shine some light on the dark and mysterious role Simpkins played in my great grandfathers murder.

Jack Simpkins....Still a Wanted Man!

As of this writing, I was referred by one county coroner's office jurisdiction to another in Colorado regarding the existence of any 1907 records related to the small New York Time's article in the previous post alleging Simpkins suicide. If any of my Colorado friends can dig anything up related to Simpkins then have at it. When and if anything is found you will find it here on the blog.

**As a courtesy that I always try to extend, I have attempted to contact David Grover and True West magazine but have not received any response and/or objection to the use of this material for educational purposes on this blog. The material is over twenty years old and I am not aware of any copyright issues for non-commercial educational use. If any are brought to my attention then I will be happy to remove the offending portion.

No comments: