Looking back

100 years ago

In light of the fact that there might be families that could be blindsided by this, I am withholding the names of the victim and the defendant. It is not a pretty story, but it’s in the papers.

Idaho Falls was riveted this week in 1921 by the trial of Dr. X, charged with murder in the death of Miss Y, whose body had reportedly been found July 21, 1920, in a pool of her own blood in a bed at the Underwood Hotel. The case was prosecuted by District Attorney C.E. Crowley, with assistance from E.A. Owen and George Lowe. Dr. X was represented by the firms of Holden & Holden of Idaho Falls and Miller & Ricks of Rexburg.

According to stories in the Salt Lake Telegram, testimony began in earnest on Friday, April 15 with the following witnesses:

— Dr. A.R. Soderquist, county physician, and Dr. William Kinnard, who had performed the autopsy. Both said they believed Miss Y’s death had been caused by hemorrhage or shock. Both said they found no evidence of a criminal operation.

— Catherine Lavery Baker, proprietress of the Underwood Hotel. She testified that Dr. X had engaged a room for a patient on July 18 and registered her under the name of Miss Kelly. She said she had been called to the room to assist in some sort of operation but had become ill and left.

— Sarah Beach, a practical nurse. She said she was called to the hotel to administer an anesthetic and that Dr. X was occupied for five minutes in performing the operation.

— Mrs. J.J. Hayball, an acquaintance of Miss Y’s who confided that Miss Y had told her she was “in trouble” and that Dr. X was the occasion of it. “She said Miss Y told her she was to meet Dr. X at some station south of Idaho Falls on July 15. She never saw Miss Y alive again,” the Telegram reported. Hayball testified that the night of July 20 she received a call that Miss Y’s sister was wanted at the Underwood Hotel. Hayball said she recognized the voice as Dr. X’s.

“During Mrs. Hayball’s testimony the courtroom crowd became so boisterous that the court ordered the chamber cleared,” the Tribune reported. “The court refused a request of the defense to dismiss the jury because of the effect of this demonstration on the jurors.”

Friday ended, and Monday began with testimony from Dr. Harry Willson, who had apparently spoken with Miss Y. Claiming patient-client privilege, he refused to share details of their conversations. “He said the operation could be so skillfully performed as to leave no marks,” the Telegram story said. Interrupting vigorous cross-examination, the court told the defense attorneys they could put Willson on the stand as their own witness during their portion of the trial, if they so desired.

The defense opened its case on Tuesday, April 19, calling Dr. Charles Merrill, who gave testimony as to the administration of ether. “Dr. H.E. Jenkin was also called and stated that in no case would he administer ether to a patient in the condition of Miss Y when performing an operation to remove her tonsils,” the story in the Telegram said. “Dr. West, a former partner of Dr. X, testified he knew of medical services Dr. X had paid to Miss Y of an innocent nature.”

Closing arguments began April 20. Willson was recalled to the stand and said he had examined Miss Y for an insurance policy. An insurance agent was also called but not permitted to testify.

After an hour-and-a-half of deliberation and four ballots, the jury returned its verdict on April 21: Not guilty.

Postscript (from the Ogden Standard Examiner, March 20, 1934): According to word received in Ogden from Arizona, Dr. X, 56 years old, widely known Phoenix physician and specialist in gynecology and obstetrics, died recently in his home. He had been a Phoenix resident 13 years. A native of Franklin, Ida., he practiced in his home state after receiving his medical degree, going to Phoenix in 1921.

75 years ago

The Tautphaus Park Zoo gained a new “inmate” (the Post-Register’s term, not mine) this week in April 1946 with the addition of a coyote. “(Neither) the coyote or its former owner were very happy about the whole thing,” the newspaper reported. “Ivar Gilstrap, 13-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Gilstrap of Monteview, presented the one-year-old coyote to the city this week after being persuaded that the zoo would be a better home for the range animal than a ranch house yard. The coyote itself was a present to young Gilstrap one year ago this spring by Al Hendrickson of Roberts, who found the two-day-old pup while cleaning out a coyote den.”

50 years ago

Nine Soviet scientists toured unclassified sections of the National Reactor Testing Station on April 19, 1971, expressing interest in the fast breeder reactor for power generation. The scientists did not grant any interviews, but Clarence E. Larson, Atomic Energy commissioner, said they were looking toward the use of nuclear energy in the future. “Larson said the Soviet Union has enough conventional power sources to meet immediate needs,” the Associated Press reported. The delegation left that night to tour facilities in California.

25 years ago

In hopes of extending their growing season, eastern Idaho potato growers were experimenting with a strain of seed potato genetically engineered to withstand moderate levels of frost. Developed by University of Idaho biochemist Dan Guerra, the transgenic Russet Burbank carried a gene based on one found in winter flounder. In laboratory growth chambers, the so-called antifreeze gene had been shown to protect several lines of spuds down to 28 degrees, roughly the temperature at which salt water freezes.

Paul Menser is the author of “Legendary Locals of Idaho Falls.”

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