Monday, September 19, 2011

Problem #3: Inquest into Death of Mamie Grover

On Feb. 20, 1882, a coroner's inquest was held in Laramie, Wyoming. The deceased in question was one Mamie Grover. The cause of death was ruled suicide by self-inflicted gunshot; a ruling which agrees with all the witness testimony, including her husband. The contemporary reader, removed from the time and place the report was written, and unaware of the circumstances surrounding the events of February 19, may very well find this ruling sloppy at best, suspicious or possibly even ominous at worst.

The surviving document is difficult to read due to poor handwriting as well as seemingly inconsistent transcriptioning, occasional akward turns of phrase, and the glaring omission of at least one page of text. The impression given is that the parties involved, most likely including either Coroner P.F. Greensbud [sp?] or Clerk J.W. Wildrum, or even both.

At any rate, the inquest seems to be a legal formality. On the one hand, there are enough suspicious-sounding asides as well as the whiff of conspiracy to raise the possibility that a genuine cover-up has been achieved a dubious but still legal formal legitimacy; on the other hand, the too-perfect narrative has been stitched together a litle too haphazardly and with too little cohesiveness to suggest a well-organized or pre-existing conspiracy.

There is a lot here to raise doubts. The witnesses agree almost a little too much about some of the details, and when there is a discrepancy in the chronology, it is only by a half hour or so. But these details which agree are all of either the time, or the reaction of the various witnesses after the crime was 'discovered.

Alternatively, couple of discussions shortly prior to her alleged suicide are reported, and these two are so radically different in tone and context that it is very nearly impossible to imagine that they involved the same person in the same situation; by 7:00 PM on February 19, Mamie Grover was, by all accounts (except, implicitly, in one, as we shall see), intoxicated. Abd in this condition, she was alleged to have had an argument Mollie Arlington, who is referred to, by Mamie's hubsand J.A. Grover, as "the girl who left her some time ago". This statement which is not qualified or elaborated, although two details which come out are interesting--Mollie either still lives with the Grovers, or they still have regular access to her current lodging. Secondly, Mamie's husband elsewhere is quoted as describing seeing her arguing "with one of the girls," indicating both that there was more than one girl, and that Mollie Arlington was still around. This contradiction is not explained.

As for the other conversation--Mrs. Ryan (who is allowed to testify but not sign the inquest), stated that she saw Mrs. Grover a half-hour after she was supposedly shot; Mrs. Grover was pleasant, and asked to have her laundry finished and delivered that night. This is odd behavior indeed for an intoxicated person moments away from committing suicide.

Another unexamined detail mentioned more than once--the rumor, at least, that Mamie Grover was about to lose her liquor license. Why this was is not explained, if indeed true. Also possibly noteworthy--why was the license in her name rather than her husbands?

Much of the documentation consists of long ledger entries and lists; some lists include a great variety of products and services along with dollar amounts, while the other only includes regular amounts of money (even dollar amounts). It seems quite likely that Mamie Grover was operating a brothel, possibly not a legal or unofficially sanctioned one, and had come into some trouble with the city authorities. It is impossible to say who killed Mamie Grover, or why she killed herself if that bare fact is indeed true, but it clear that a lot more was going on on February 19, 1882 that a couple of local officials and a handful of citizens did not wish to pry into. At least not in the official record.


Paula said...

I came to some similar conclusions, although I had not thought of it as a deliberate cover-up. But it is certainly possible.

One of the things that caught my attention is that the evidence was presented to the jury the next day. The more I think about that, the more I wonder how typical that was. No phones, no email, wintertime--yet they convene six men in the middle of winter. I will be curious to see whether this reflects how the system worked in that place and tine.

Kirk Johnson said...

Well, I don't know if it was a deliberate cover-up so much as a "let's get our stories straight so we can put this behind us quickly" situation; perhaps she was simply a very unpopular or problematic member of the community, and nobody wanted to waste time on her. Like you, I cannot decide.

Also, I suspect that without proper morgue facilities, an inquest almost had to be done right away. This wasn't a proper criminal trial, after all. But I'm just guessing. Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Your observation about Mrs. Grover losing her liquor license and not Mr. Grover is very interesting. I had concluded that Mr. Grover had helped Mollie in the murder of Mrs. Grover but I couldn't figure out a motive for him to do so. If it was Mrs. Grover's liquor license, it stands to reason that she owned the assets while Mr. Grover did not. That certainly provides the motive I was looking for.