The 1906 Stockton Trunk Trial

The all-absorbing topic in Stockton on March 26, 1906 was the trunk murder mystery — the finding of the dead body of a man in a trunk at the Southern Pacific railway station by baggage master I. K. Thompson and his assistant, N. Vielioh, on a Saturday night. The police were satisfied that the man’s wife committed murder, beating him to death over the head, possibly with a sandbag.

By early Sunday morning it developed that the murdered man was Albert McVicar, a timber man in the Rawhide Mine at Jamestown. He occupied a room in the California rooming house Friday night with a woman registering as   A.N. McVicar and wife, of Jamestown.

It was learned late that night that the woman was actually the ex-wife of McVicar, but in the August of 1905, she had married a Eugene or Jean Le Doux, a teamster, whose folks conduct a miners’ boarding house near Martelis Station in Amador County.

As the furniture purchased at a local store was directed to be sent to Martelis in care of a man named Le Doux, whom she is said to have designated as her brother, suspicion was directed at him. Sheriff Sibley went to Jackson and investigated but found Le Doux had not been away, and that he was in Jackson on the day of the murder.

This relieved him of any direct connection with the crime. He professed ignorance of it.

The woman’s maiden name was Emma Cole, and her widowed mother, Mrs. Head, resides between Jackson and Sutter, in Amador County. She told Sheriff Sibley her daughter had left home two weeks ago for Stockton or San Francisco.

Where she was at the present time she did not know.

On the same day as the body was found, Mrs. Emma Le Doux was arrested at Antioch at the Arlington Hotel by Town Marshal Thomas B. Sharon on information sent from Stockton. On being arrested the woman promptly admitted her identity and said she knew what she was wanted for.

Upon her arrest, she said to have made a statement. She declared carbolic acid was administered McVicar Saturday morning by Joe Miller, a sandy-complexioned man with a smooth face.

He and McVicar, so she said, came to the room intoxicated Friday night and McVicar went to bed. She said that she was with Miller after that.

In the morning about 9 o’clock they went into the room and Miller administered the poison. She does not go into detail, but declared she had nothing to do with it outside of assisting in putting the body in the trunk.

She never gave a reason for the killing. She telephoned her mother in an endeavor to have her meet her in Lodi or Galt, and said she expected her mother to take the Santa Fe train for Stockton.

She also told the Constable she was waiting for Miller, who had gone to San Francisco from Stockton.  Miller however left her at Point Richmond, stating that he would meet her at Antioch.

Her statement was conflicting, so her arrest was made. Emma was turned over to Sheriff Veale, of Contra Costa County, and brought to Stockton.

Her statement didn’t account for the bruises on McVicar’s head, and as for carbolic acid, the autopsy didn’t discover any trace of it. Doctor’s did say there was a slight but unimportant inflammation of the stomach.

“It is hardly likely that anybody would attempt to give another so active a poison as carbolic acid, which would burn him badly and thus betray itself,” one newspaper reads. “A person taking carbolic acid would not be incapacitated from putting up a hard struggle, and there was no sign of a struggle.”

Dr. Hull, one of the medical examiners, stated the blows on the head, causing congestion of the inner lining of the skull, had caused death, and there was absolutely no evidence of poison. Neither was there an odor of alcohol, which would be the case had he been very drunk.

As for the Joe Miller, who she says was the chief actor in the murder, there is no such man. However she did spend that Saturday night with Joe Healy in a San Francisco lodging house, who established an alibi covering the time of the murder.

Within days of Emma’s arrest, the Grand Jury was convened. This came after authorities found a small bottle of laudanum, about one-third full.

It became quickly evident the report Emma had made a statement to the effect that the mythical Miller had given McVicar carbolic acid was a mistake. It was now believed she used the narcotic prior to beating McVicar to death.

As Emma was reported to be “quietly, but with great relish,” eating breakfast, District Attorney Norton refused to allow anyone to talk with her.  He told the Associated Press, “I feel it my duty to protect the woman in every way possible. There is yet to be a trial, and interviews would serve to complicate matters.”

Questioned as to the motive for the crime, Norton said he only had an opinion. He speculated it might have been revenge for his having spent her money, or it might have been robbery — a desire to get possession of the furniture which had been purchased and partly paid for, or it might have been jealousy; possibly all three.

As for the identity of the deceased, a dispatch from the Cripple Creek Chief of Police Baker, Norton says there is no question that the dead man was McVicar.

Evidently Stockton’s Chief of Police Baker has sent an inquiry to the Colorado mining town asking for information on McVicar after card was found in McVicar’s effects showing he had been a Wells-Fargo agent.

McVicar worked for the company in Cripple Creek from 1886 to 1890 before relocating to California. He was also involved in the shooting some years ago of a Colorado newspaperman by a Wells-Fargo man named Russell.

The dispatch also shows McVicar‘s brother John, owned and operated the Cripple Creek Laundry. John with two more brothers and their mother still lived in the town.

Furthermore, Captain Neville, of the Rawhide Mine, where McVicar was employed, as a timber man, told reporter, “He was a quiet, industrious fellow, who took care of his money, and he was not a drinking man.”

Finally, Norton concluded that the motive wasn’t money because at the time McVicar and Mrs. Le Doux bought the furniture, he paid $100 down; he said he had little money left, but expected $200 from Wells-Fargo.

An inquiry by detectives shows he didn’t receive the money and that Emma must have known his financial condition.

Sibley, who had gone to Jackson to investigate Emma’s background claimed the family, her husband, and her mother, were “a queer crowd,” He pointed out that when Mrs. Head, the woman’s mother, was told her daughter was suspected of murder she didn’t show the  slightest  emotion, furthermore, the husband, Le Doux  seemed completely undisturbed.

He said he knew nothing whatever about it, and Sheriff Sibley was satisfied that he had nothing to do with the murder. Le Doux claimed he had expected her home any day during the past week.

He added that Emma had been accustomed to go and come when she pleased and he never worried about her. He also told Sibley he knew nothing about the furniture.

Three days after McVicar’s body was found stuffed in the trunk; Norton reported the discovery in San Francisco that Emma had purchased a six-ounce bottle of cyanide of potassium at the Baldwin Pharmacy about the 14th of the month. He added that traces of the poisoning had been found by the chemist analyzing pieces of tissue from the dead man.

“If they have found that,” said Norton, “then they are ahead of us.”

“Isn’t it true,” was asked, “that a bottle which had contained cyanide of potassium was found, and also that a knife or cleaver was also found among the effects of the woman?”

“I am not saying anything about anything now,” was Norton’s reply.

“Will you deny that these were found?” was the next question.

“I am not denying anything at all,” replied Norton, with a smile.

It was obvious Norton enjoyed playing up his notoriety.

The inquest into the cause of the death of McVicar showed Emma had nearly been caught from the outset.  It was shortly before noon on the day of the murder and Emma had evidently placed McVicar’s body in the trunk.

Afterwards, she informed Mrs. Englehardt, the proprietress of the California lodging house that she and McVicar were going away on the 3 o’clock train. Emma then went down the street to purchase the rope with which to tie the trunk.

While she was away a person called for a room. Mrs. Englehardt took the prospective roomer to Emma’s apartments. The door was open, and directly behind it was the trunk in which was McVicar’s body.

A hasty examination of the room was made, but no attention was paid to the trunk. Emma returned in a few minutes, had the trunk tied and carried to the depot.

Emma was charged with the murder of McVicar, on April 16th, and immediately pleaded no guilty. The proceeding took less than a minute, but the Courtroom was crowded long before the hour arrived for bringing the accused before Superior Court Judge W. B. Nutter.

By May 5th, only seventeen days remained before Emma’s trial. Both sides were hard at work gathering evidence

Norton and his assistant George McNoble were spending all their time working on the case. Defense Attorney Hugh McNoble, the brother of George, Attorney Fairall and Attorney Crocker were as busily engaged framing up their side.

A.D.A McNoble and Sibley were in Arizona gathering evidence in regard to the former life of the defendant.

“I know where my brother and the Sheriff have gone. It won’t do them any good, though, as they will not learn anything new.” Hugh said. “I would willingly tell them all they wanted to know about the matter. Yes, it’s a wild goose chase.”

As the trial began that June 5th morning, the courtroom was crowded. By this time the case had attracted widespread attention and reports of the murder had even been printed in the foreign press.

Two weeks prior to the trials beginning Hugh McNoble was forced to drop from the defense team when his partner, Fairall accused the two brothers of double dealing.  It took the remainder of the second week to sit a jury.

It was made clear from the onset that the defense intended to show that McVicar committed suicide. The prosecution on the other hand, claimed to have a clear case of murder in the first degree.

When the Court was called to order, Fairall immediately objected to the Sheriff and Coroner as being called as witnesses, on the ground of bias and prejudice. However, Nutter overruled the objections.

Then Dr. S.E. Latta, who helped conduct the autopsy on McVicar’s body, was given a rigid cross-examination. Attorney Fairall reportedly used more technical terms than Latta that he finally asked the Court for assistance.

“Why didn’t you take the temperature of this man?” asked Fairall.

“Because he was dead,” answered the witness.

“You assumed so,” Fairall shot back

“I know it,” was Latta’s emphatic reply.

Other doctors testified regarding the relative action of various poisons, ante and post-mortem bruises, the blood and other matters. Their testimony was introduced to support the contention of the defense the deceased came to his death from cyanide poisoning, self-administered, and that he was dead when placed in the trunk.

Prosecutors Norton and McNoble wasted no time in laying out the facts of there case. They pointed out that McVicar evidently never dreamed that Emma had married another man.

More damning evidence was presented showing McVicar’s death was planned some time in advance. They showed Emma had telephoned a San Francisco plumber with whom she had associated named Ed Healy, and who had been engaged to marry her, jus’ three days before McVicar was killed saying “Poor Al is dying of miner’s consumption.”

They were quick to direct the jury’s attention to fact Emma was even a known bigamist, thought she was never charged with the crime. With this information, the pair was able to tie the crime together by concluding that when Emma realized McVicar would learn of her marriage to Le Doux, she decided to poison him, place his body in a trunk and ship it to Jackson.

Soon the trial was turned over to the jury.

After being out six hours and twenty-five minutes Saturday night, June 25th, the panel returned to the courtroom. The document containing the verdict was presented to Nutter, who looked at it, handed it to Clerk Comstock with instructions to read it.

Comstock read it slowly and distinctly, “We, the jury in the above entitled case, find the defendant, Mrs. Emma Le Doux, guilty of murder in the first degree.”

Emma, whose eyes were fixed upon the table in front of her, straightened up and emitted a short groan, then placed her handkerchief to her face for a moment.  Mrs. Crocker, wife of her attorney was seated beside her, and placed her arms around Emma, kissed her many times, and told her that the fight or her life had just begun.

Neither Fairall nor Crocker showed signs of disappointment.

Nutter then set the date of judgment for July 9th at ten in the morning. Whereupon the two defense attorneys announced that they would move for a new trial and if their motion was denied would appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Fairall wasted no time in filing an appeal. He added the applause indulged in by the jury when they reached their verdict is an element he’ll make use of in his appeal.

“In case the Supreme Court grants a new trial,” he told the newspapers, “I will apply for a change of venue to Calaveras County.”

Meanwhile Sibley permitted a Catholic priest to visit Emma.  Her attorneys scoffed at the idea of a confession and strongly maintained her innocence.

After a number of delays and postponements, Emma was sentenced August 7th to be hanged October 19th.  The convicted woman heard her sentence with calmness as was neither fear nor defiance in the expression of her face as she heard her doom pronounced.

Her attorneys presented affidavits intended to impeach the character of Juror Ritter, but Judge Nutter deemed them Insufficient as a basis for the motion for a new trial.

Six-months later, on January 14th, 1908, Fairall, found himself before the Supreme Court. He argued Emma’s case should be “reversed for many reasons, the principal one of which was that the Jury at her trial had been greatly prejudiced against her by the newspaper accounts of the murder published at the time of the finding of the body of McVicar.”

The Supreme Court took the case under advisement.

Meanwhile Emma was interviewed for the second time by a group of independent reporters. It was at the request of Sheriff Sibley after rumors surfaced Emma was being mistreated.

This allegation angered Sibley and he courted an investigation. The rumor’s persisted though so he asked for the meeting.

Emma met with the reporters in jail’s reception room. She quietly surveyed them; remaining still until sheriff Sibley introduced her.

She shook hands with them then took a seat among the small group to answer their questions. Emma at once informed them she had never been mistreated, and it was a surprise to learn people could be so uncharitable to her.

When asked it she still lived in hope of her life being saved from the gallows, she answered “Why, I never worry — of course I have hope — while there is life there is hope.”

“A wedding ring upon the finger and a small gold cross holding a golden image was the only jewelry that bedecked her person,” writes one reporter. “She was neat, in tact, richly attired, but withal there was a peculiar something which impressed a person with the fact that she was convicted and condemned — that she was still just plain Emma Le Doux.”

More than a year after the gruesome discovery of McVicar’s body crammed in the trunk, the Supreme Court on May 20th, 1909, hand down its decision.  It ordered that Emma be granted a new trial.

Associate Justice Henshaw wrote the decision granting her a new trial with Associate Justices Lorigan and Melvin concurring and Chief Justice Beatty writing a concurring opinion.

After several cases are cited, the opinion continues as follows: “Thus it is seen that all of the authorities agree upon the principle and announce the rule that where the principal is disqualified his deputy is likewise disqualified and process served under these circumstances is voidable. Therefore the challenge to the panel should have been allowed.”

Her new trial date was set for February 2nd, 1909.

Wasted away, Emma was brought before Judge   Nutter and her second trial set for February 2nd, 1909. She was accompanied by County Health Officer Dr. C. L. Six, who had attended Emma for over a year.

There it was learned Emma had contracted, tuberculosis, commonly called “consumption,” or the “white plague.”  Nutter decided to postpone her trial until she was once again well.

However that second trial would never occur. Instead on the morning  ofJanuary 26th, 1910, weak and rather frail, Emma Le Doux pleaded guilty to the charge of having murdered Albert McVicar and was sentenced by Nutter to life imprisonment in San Quentin.

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