Lake County History, Chapter 117: The White Cap Murders, Part 8

John Archer, a Scotsman, was the man who broke the case for the prosecution. Six of the men had agreed to tell all. They spilled the beans on the four ringleaders; Staley, Osgood, Chadwick, and Blackburn. Thereupon, seeing their goose was cooked, Osgood and Chadwick were permitted to withdraw their pleas of not guilty and enter pleas of guilty of Murder in the Second Degree with a lesser sentence.

Francis: “I attended the first meeting with the other men. Blackburn showed me the names and said they decided to tar and feather Bennett. While I was there, gunny sacks were cut into coats, and I was shown a cat-o-nine-tails. Bennett was to get twenty lashes. The day after the raid, Blackburn told me Staley killed McGuyre.”

Court: “Since Mr. Francis has answered the question, he is no longer in contempt. The punishment will not be enforced.”

Henry Arkarro was called to the witness stand. W. Taylor, Assistant District Attorney, examined Arkarro.

Taylor: “What did Staley say to Blackburn.”

Arkarro: “We have made a bad job of it. We had better go back and finish it.”

Taylor: “Who were the leaders of the conspiracy?”

Arkarro: “McGuyre and Blackburn were the leaders of the conspiracy.  Blackburn got the guns for the men who did not have any.”

Taylor:“What did Blackburn say?”

The defendant’s attorney objected. He motioned to strike out his answer as hearsay and the court. He was sustained in his objection.

February 19, the examination of Fred Bennett was continued on the part of the prosecution. One undershirt, offered in evidence, was identified by the witness as having been the bloody shirt worn by Helen. Riche at the time she was shot at Camper’s Retreat. There was an objection by the defendant’s Council to introduce the shirt, but his objection was overruled.

Osgood:“On October 8, McGuyre came to see me about a plan to raid the Camper’s Retreat. They intended to tar and feather Fred Bennett. At our first meeting, I was asked to have Staley join us.”

“Staley and I were living together in one of the Bullion Mine’s cabins. The following night we all took an oath. If anyone spoke of the raid, he must ‘pay with his life.’ During a third meeting, we put burnt cork blacking on our faces and put on the flour sack coats and masks. McGuyre, the leader, told us there must be no bloodshed. On the way over to Riche’s place, McGuyre called Staley and me. He said if ‘Bennett or the Riche’s abuse us, of course we must defend ourselves.”

“When we were all on the porch, McGuyre gave us a signal with a whistle from an empty .44 shell casing, and we entered the tavern in a body. After the shooting was over, we all went out, and we all walked down the road. We repeated our oath to keep silent and returned to Bickard’s house… by different routes.”

Evans:“I saw McGuyre holding Mrs. Riche… and McGuyre’s gun went off.”

Bickard gave the court more details of the raid.

Bickard: “As we entered, Mrs. Riche ran toward McGuyre. He caught her and threw her on the hearth. McGuyre’s pistol went off, and a volley of shots was fired at the prostrate woman by those present.”

Bickard’s description of a volley fired by ‘those present’ was also never clarified, and the exact person or persons that filled Mrs. Riche’s body with five bullets was never made clear. By intimidation, it was W.R. McGuyer, who killed Mrs. Riche. McGuyre’s death by person’s unknown may have been intended to be the best way for the other members of the conspiracy to erase any personal responsibility for her murder. W.R. McGuyre’s murder by person or persons unknown is a mystery. Francis’ hearsay statement from Blackburn was disputed by others. To this day, McGuyre’s murderer is still unknown.

The jury deliberated for six days and brought in a verdict on Blackburn and Staley of Murder in the Second Degree. Osgood and Chadwick were tried and received a verdict the same as for Blackburn. The court dismissed the cases against Lund, Martin, Archer, Arkarro, Evans, and Bickard. The reasons given for their dismissal was because they aided the prosecution and because they were drawn into the affair by Blackburn.

The four convicted men were sentenced. Charles Osgood was to serve twenty years, Charles Blackburn to serve twenty-five years, Robert Chadwick to serve twenty years, and B. F. Staley twenty years in San Quentin Prison.

After the sentencing, a wave of letters and petitions rolled in from friends of the convicts. Blackburn was a leader in the Republican G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic. Despite wails of protest and an avalanche of angry letters and speeches, the Governor commuted Blackburn’s sentence to ten years. Eventually, all four men were released from prison within three years of their incarnation. The questions surrounding the murder of W.R. McGuyer, the ringleader, and Helen Riche’s death, were never answered.

Next episode; Lake County is Bankrupted


To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books

visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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