1907 Scofield murder-suicide ignites blaze of conjecture
The Scofield murder of a white business woman by a barber who was black set the whole of Carbon County as well as Utah into a conjecture tizzy in January 1907.
William Brown, a barber who had been in the employ and business with Zelphia Earl for about three years after her husband's death, shot her in his barber shop and then himself on Jan. 17.
Brown had been a good friend of her husband, Hawley H. Earl, for some time. When the latter was on his death bed because of dropsy (today known as edema, the buildup of fluids in the body), he made Brown promise to take care of his wife and three children. Brown agreed to do that.
Brown had come to Scofield in 1903 with his wife. They were from Michigan. She eventually went back to the Midwest. The Eastern Utah Advocate reported that the reason she returned was "cruelty on his part."
The Salt Lake Herald reported that "Earl had for a long time expected death from dropsy. Brown was not only a friend to the sick man, but a nurse as well and despite his color and the prejudices of society the two men became bosom companions in a way."
Brown ran a barber shop next to the Earl's saloon, and after the death of Hawley Earl he helped Zelphia run the business. He was a frequent caller at the home of the woman both before and after the death of her husband. A few months later Mrs. Earl's mother was passing away and she made her daughter promise that she would no longer receive any more attentions from Brown. The Advocate reported that the family had "no little unfavorable comment" about her relationship with Brown.
After that things seemed to change. She eventually told him that he was to have nothing to do with the saloon and told him to just run the barber business.
The day of the murder was marked by two arguments, the second resulting in the deaths of both of them. Both the Salt Lake Herald and the Eastern Utah Advocate reported on the murder, but each had a bit different story of what happened. The Salt Lake Herald said the murder took place in her home, but gave fewer details as to what transpired other than that he used a Colt .32 caliber automatic to take her life, then his. The Herald article concentrated on the relationship Mrs. Earl had to her family in Salt Lake (named Burrows). Apparently the family had considered the relationship between Mrs. Earl and Brown as scandalous, although it was not reported what that relationship was or might have been.
According to the Advocate Mrs. Earl was in the saloon behind the bar talking to F.H. Merriweather who was seated in the establishment. August Takkanon, the bar tender, and several others were engaged in a conversation when Brown entered the saloon. He joined in the discussion, then suddenly the conversation led to a "very abusive" argument between he and she which both sides participated in. Brown pulled out the .32 and pointed it at Mrs. Earl. She reported leaned over the bar and said "Shoot you ______. I am not afraid of you."
"The bystanders seized Brown and took him into his barber shop adjacent to the saloon," reported the Advocate. "There he was quieted and seemed to let the matter pass."
After he was calmed down, the men left the shop and a few minutes later C.H. Nickerson entered the shop and asked for a shave. Apparently Merriweather came back to see how Brown was doing as well. Brown began to shave Nickerson but when he was about halfway done, Mrs. Earl walked into the shop and began the quarrel all over again. This time the argument was worse than before.
Brown drew out his revolver and tried to hand it to her, but she wouldn't take it. He then took the gun and stuck it in her chest and fired it.
"Nickerson and Merriweather rushed out of the place and left Brown alone with his victim," stated the Advocate. "Brown locked his door and would not let anyone in."
Soon the people outside heard another shot and when they broke the door down the found Brown with a bullet through his chest in almost the same place as Mrs. Earl did.
A coroners jury investigation later said that it was a murder-suicide. The circumstances of the entire argument and what it was over was never released.
Mrs. Earl was buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery by her husband and other relatives. Her four children went to live with relations in the capitol city.
Brown was buried in the Scofield Cemetery, but it took some time because he was over 6'6" and a special coffin had to built that would hold his body.