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Front Page » April 28, 2011 » Carbon County News » 1948: Murder, strikes and the sale of a company town
Published 1,190 days ago

1948: Murder, strikes and the sale of a company town


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.

While 1948 was a big political year for Carbon (see "A trifecta of local, state and national politics," Sun Advocate, April 26, 2011), other developments in the county produced headlines as well. Intertwined in those headlines were advancements in newspaper technology at the Sun Advocate.

Since the war ended three years before, people who lived in Dragerton (now East Carbon) had been concerned about what was going to happen to the homes they lived in. The government built town was sold in 1947 to Geneva Steel and over 700 occupied homes became the property of the steel giant. Some wondered how long they would get to live there.

That was answered in September when the company began selling homes to the people who lived in them. The first people to sign on the dotted line to buy a home were Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Bon. The sales to the occupants progressed quickly as the company divested itself of the dwellings. By November two thirds of the homes had been sold as Geneva and Kaiser Steel continued to make improvements to the community at large. At the time the housing was considered to be some of the best in the state for a mining community.

At the same time Kaiser Steel was having Utah Construction build new homes in Sunnydale. The outlook for the steel business was great; the world had been basically bombed flat by the war and the only real steel production left was in the western hemisphere. The company was in the process of building 60 new homes in the area.

In March, however, a strike by coal miners idled most of the major mines, putting 3600 employees out of work. The strike was over pensions with the union saying that the companies had "dishonored" the current contract by not agreeing to follow the pension plans. The walkout lasted over a month with workers returning to their jobs on April 21 following the issuing of a work request by John L. Lewis, who had already been charged with contempt of court for not asking miners to return when ordered to do so.

In May a murder south of Price stole the headlines in the paper for the summer. In the May 27 issue of the Sun Advocate it was reported that the "lifeless" body of Max Lopez of Hiawatha was found inside a car about five miles from town on Highway 10. Another man, Joe Herrera, also of Hiawatha, was in the car at the time of the shooting and told police when they arrived that he knew the attackers who had been in another car when they shot Lopez. He told the police that the two were Joe Trajillo and Joe Mandragon, both of Castle Gate. As soon as the officers were told that they set a message by radio from their cars and reported it to headquarters. A blockade outside of Price was set up and soon the stoppage netted the pair. They and Herrera were booked into jail for questioning.

On June 3, Trujillo was arraigned on a first degree murder charges as the investigation progressed. He was remanded without bail. At the time of the murder no weapon was found, although by the shell casings it was assumed to be a .32 caliber pistol. However by the time of the arraignment a weapon had been discovered. At the time the paper did not report where it was found. After some legal wrangling the date of the trial was set for July 19.

The wheels of the court system turned quickly in this case and on July 24 the jury found Trujillo guilty of murder. The verdict came after only four hours of deliberation and was returned to the judge just before midnight. The jury did not make any recommendations, and on July 28 Judge Fred Keller meted out the death penalty for Trujillo's actions. At the time he set the time of the execution for Sept. 11 just after sunrise. However, based on later reports the execution did not take place in 1948, and in fact never happened. Lopez's name is not listed on those executed over the years by the state prison.

The crime also brought a first for the Sun Advocate. It presented a chance for the first real crime photos that were ever printed in the paper. Photos of Trujillo being escorted from the jail and a photo of the car where Lopez died were featured in the paper on June 3.

Around the same time as that the murder verdict was decided another tragedy hit the area as a father and his small son died in the waters of Cleveland Reservoir when a row boat they were in sank and they could not make it to shore.

The incident took place on July 17 when John Brinkerhoff and his eight year old son Johnny found an old boat by the shore and went out into the reservoir about 150 feet. The boat started going down and Mr. Brinkerhoff started to swim back to shore with his son on his back. The boy slipped under and Brinkerhoff tried a couple of times to retrieve the youth from the water, but on the third try he too did not surface The drowing was witnessed by his wife and a friend, Henry Lutz.

Lutz tried to rescue them, and was within 25 feet of where they went down but couldn't find them. Three hours later the bodies were recovered.

Brinkerhoff left behind a wife and six children.

The Gooseberry Project was in the news again too. While the year before the Bureau of Reclamation said that the project was totally dead, in 1948 they started to renege on that statement. An article that appeared in the August 5 issue of the Sun Advocate pointed out that officials had recently stated that "construction of the Gooseberry project in Utah be deferred until costs are lower or a greater economic need appears."

That statement, along with others, opened the door to more years of litigation and conflict that is still not resolved to this day.

The year finished off with another disappointment, but one that Carbon county took pride in. Just the year before, Carbon High sports had been banished from playing the large Wasatch Front schools in regular season competition for what was termed "many reasons." They, for the most part, ended up playing smaller schools around the state even though they were in the Class A division in terms of size (in those days there were just Class A and Class B schools, with the dividing mark at around 800 students). But at the end of the season there were two teams that stood to play for the state championship: Carbon (6-0-2, they allowed ties in those days) and Jordan (8-0-0) who had only one team score on them all season. However Carbon had outscored their opponents in the regular season 202 to 27 while Jordan hand only managed 170 points while letting South score six points on them during their game.

In the previous 10 years Jordan and Weber had seven of the 10 championships with Jordan having four itself. Carbon owned only the 1938 banner.

On Nov. 13 the Beetdiggers and the Dinosaurs met in a clash that looked as if it could be fairly even. However, Jordan was in control the entire game, despite a hopeful first half. By the end of the contest Jordan had triumphed 28-0.

But Carbon was proud. It was the best finish in the 10 years since the last championship and they had two all-staters named from their team, Gene Plaga and George D'Ambrosio.

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