With the exception of final edit issues, and pesky last minute adjustments or requests from the editor the Route 66 Historic Atlas is finished. As always, I am left wishing there would have been more time for research and writing, and a less restrictive editorial word count.
As always, there was so much more I wanted to include. Still, I think it will be a welcome addition to the Route 66 enthusiasts library since it features some things like murder and mayhem that are not often discussed in the context of polite conversation about the revered double six.
To say the very least, it was a most interesting endeavor. I derive tremendous satisfaction from piecing together snippets of stories from old newspapers and court records.
However, more often than not, in spite of my best efforts, limited time, historic disasters that erase records, fragments of information or errors in printed reports, misplaced records, and other constraints prevent me from uncovering an entire story. An excellent example would be the discovery of a newspaper clipping from an Ohio paper dated October 1930.
One Martin Bowman died resultant of injuries sustained on U.S. 66 at the Padre Canyon Bridge. Apparently Mr. Bowman was apprehended in Flagstaff for several petty robberies in Los Angeles and the theft of an automobile (the vehicle he was driving) in Illinois.
Here is where it gets interesting and the imagination is given a loose reign. According to the article two officers were accompanying Bowman back to Illinois in the stolen car when the suspect attempted to gain control of the vehicle on the down grade to the bridge.
Upon impact with the bridge railing (could this account for some of the damage to the Padre Canyon Bridge?) Bowman was thrown through the windshield. The deputy at the wheel suffered two broken wrists, and the second officer sustained a concussion and broken ribs.
Now, lets think about this. Why were they returning the stolen car and driver to Illinois? Why were they driving instead of using the railroad? Why was this on page two of an obscure Ohio newspaper?
Now do you see my dilemma? I would like to have more information but deadlines and constrictions make that impossible at this time. A quick search through subsequent issues of the paper have no further mention of the incident.
In regard to the infamous murder by Harry Miller at Two Guns, I was more fortunate. Thanks to Libby Conyer, an archivist at the Arizona State Library, I was able to obtain the entire court transcript for these proceedings.
Another murder that I was able to document in detail was the Tong assassination of Tom King at the American Kitchen restaurant next to the Hotel Beale in Kingman in late 1926. This particular case was a media sensation at the time and the case ended up in the state supreme court as one of the defendants who received the death penalty was 15 years old at the time of the murder.
This case had everything needed for a Hollywood drama. There was an almost fifty mile running gun battle, the only witness vanished, two rival tongs spent almost one million dollars in a vicious legal battle, the Mohave County sheriff suspended the Constitution for Chinese residents as he initiated a house to house search, without a warrant, and seized weapons.
Racial prejudices and suspicions were given ample fuel when it was revealed that several leading Chinese businessmen in Kingman and Prescott were members of a tong. Newspapers in Arizona, California, and China published regular updates with or without fact checking.
Of course no story of mayhem, crime, and murder on Route 66 would be considered complete without inclusion of the infamous Bobby Greenlease case or the murder of T.A. Thornton in Amarillo or the mayor of Santa Rosa charged with the murder of his wife. Still, my primary focus was on the obscure and interesting crimes but with avoidance of the extremely dark incidents such as the unsolved murder of three people found headless in their cars between Albuquerque and Grants in 1951.
I also exercised a bit of artistic license by including a few tails from the era of the National Old Trails Highway even though the primary focus is Route 66. A few of these stories were just to interesting to leave out.
As an example, in 1921 a doctor from Tennessee was in Los Angles on business (he arrived by train)and decided to see the sites after purchasing a used car. He picked up a teenage hitchhiker near Daggett, and another at Ludlow.
The trio camped along the road with other motorists west of Goffs, and near the head of Slaughter House Canyon to the east of Kingman. As the good doctor was building a fire at the Kingman campsite, the boy picked up near Daggett grabbed the small prospectors pick ax from the cars tool kit, and attempted to plant it in his benefactors head.
When the attack commenced, the second boy ran for help, and vanishes from the story. The doctor suffered a pierced hand and face, wounds received in an attempt at self defense, and a punctured skull from the second blow.
Oddly enough, rather than steal the doctors car, the assailant hopped an east bound freight train but was apprehended at Hackberry. The doctor drove himself into town for medical assistance, and three weeks later, resumed his drive home to Tennessee.
One of the more interesting aspects of this case is that a similar incident happened at a communal campsite near Slaughter House Canyon the following year. Now, how odd is that! Another interesting aspect of this project was chasing the origins of celebrity associated myths and urban legends, and uncovering new stories. I am quite sure this aspect of the book will pique interest and stir up a bit of controversy. A case in point would be the marriage of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard in Kingman. Yes, they did marry in Kingman. No, they did not spend a honeymoon night in Oatman on their way home. Yes, they did drive through Oatman and they may have even stopped for gas. The legend of the honeymoon appears abruptly after 1969, the period when the Oatman Hotel, formerly the Durlin Hotel, changed owners. Apparently the scheme was hatched as a means to promote the property. However, I did learn that the newlyweds accepted an invitation to a small, informal reception after the marriage ceremony. This, however, took place at the Brunswick Hotel. Granted, I do not have conclusive proof that they by passed the Oatman Hotel but I do have solid grounds for this conclusion. Considering the fact that they married late in the afternoon, after an all day drive on U.S. 66 from California, attended a reception in Kingman, and were back in Los Angeles for a press interview by 8:00 the following morning, a lengthy stay in Oatman seems quite unlikely. Another interesting item uncovered also opened a few doors for conjecture. Buster Keaton did stop in Kingman and did stay at the Hotel Beale. He did film large portions of the 1925 film Go West at Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar Ranch. Conjecture leads me to believe Keaton met Duncan at the Hotel Beale. Keaton was looking for the authentic when he stopped in Kingman and Duncan was the real deal, a frontier era cattleman who had been linked to Kid Curry and who had tangled with members of the Butch Cassidy crowd. Moreover, Duncan kept a room at the hotel. I also learned that before Pearl Bailey purchased Murrays’ Dude Ranch in Apple Valley, she and her husband looked at properties in Kingman suitable for a dude ranch. Given the prejudices in Kingman during this period I can only imagine how that endeavor went. Then there are the obscure discoveries that bring to mind pa’s adage, better to fill your head with useless knowledge than no knowledge at all. As an example, Sammy Davis Jr. lost his eye in an automobile accident on Route 66. Comedian Ernie Kovacs died in an automobile accident on Santa Monica Boulevard, Route 66. Now, with completion of this book, I face a new challenge. What should the next project be?