(Editors 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 as the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth approaches in 2011.)
In present day Carbon County murders occur sparingly, with the average only being about one a year. But there were times in the history of the county when death by homicide was more common. One of those years was 1938.
The one that stole the biggest headlines of the day was a murder that took place in Helper in late March of that year. The death was a result of a bitter dispute between a woman's brother and her suitor, a man named Henry Mollard.
Their age difference was probably part of the reason the death occurred. Clarence (Buster) Snedden, the murdered man was only 22 at the time and Mollard was 52. He had been interested in and going out with Snedden's older sister (but not much older at 24) for some time when the murder took place.
The night of Feb. 26, 1938, Mollard and Snedden had been drinking beer at the home of Ida Dyet, Snedden's sister. Apparently Snedden said something to Mollard concerning the relationship Mollard had going on with Flora Snedden, and Mollard left extremely angry. Snedden followed him out.
It was at that point that things got confused. Mollard, who reportedly had been assaulted by Snedden a few times before went to his apartment and at first report he had retrieved a .32 caliber pistol from his quarters and shot Snedden point blank. Mollard then went back into his apartment and went to bed. He was later arrested by a patrolman who reported that he asked Mollard about the shooting and Mollard said he did it.
Surprisingly, however, when a jury trial was held lin May, the jury found Mollard not guilty. It took the court only five days to come up with that verdict. Much of the time in court the defense and prosecution were bantering about the history that had existed between Mollard and Snedden. Mollard's attorneys were apparently able to convince the jury that Snedden's threats and actual actions made it so that Mollard was living in fear much of the time.
However that wasn't all the defense had. While Mollard admitted that he shot Snedden, he said he didn't mean to do it. He told the story that he had left Dyet's home and had then gone behind his place to get his get his milk from the doorstep. When he came around the home he saw Snedden coming his way. He went in and got the gun from under his mattress and then fired a shot into the dark to scare Snedden away. He then went to bed thinking that Snedden wouldn't come around anymore that night. He said he only learned of the death when the patrolman knocked at his door.
However the prosecution put on the stand a number of witnesses who said that Mollard had it out for Snedden and that events before and on that night proved that Mollard had intended on killing Snedden all along. One of the main witnesses was Flora Snedden herself.
She told the court that Buster (the name her family used for her younger brother) had come home from the Days of '49 dance that evening and began speaking with Mollard. Immediately Mollard left the house and she followed him out asking him what was wrong. She said he "hollered out" that he was "through with the whole bunch of you" and then added some insulting remarks. She said that Buster went out and told Mollard that he "couldn't talk to my sister that way" and then she said only a few seconds later a shot rang out and she ran into the yard and found her brother lying halfway between the Dyett and Mollard home with "blood running out of a hole in his neck."
"He never liked my brother," Flora told the court concerning an incident during the prior Christmas season. "(It was druing that time that) Mollard grabbed a gun and was going to kill Buster."
Another witness, John McKendrick, who was Mollard's brother-in-law, told the court that Flora had once told her that she thought someone would kill the young Snedden one day and completed the statement with "the sooner it happens the better."
That statement was denied by both Flora and her sister who was apparently there during the time McKendrick said Flora made the statement.
Other witnesses also attested to the tension between the two including a statement a woman said she heard from Mollard one day when he was drunk in which he said "I am going to kill Buster" and later again when he made a similar threat and then declared his love for Flora Snedden.
But the doubt created in the mind of the jury by the defense was enough to exonerate Mollard.
That wasn't all for the year, however. A murder in Kenilworth put a Japanese miner named K. Togo in jail for some time after he admitted that he killed fellow miner Y. Marumota with a track hammer.
Togo, 51 at the time, told authorities he did it because he was assaulted by Marumota, 50. The murder occurred at the boarding house in the mining camp. Togo said that early on the morning of Sept. 30, Togo was awakened by Marumota who wanted him to get up and drink beer with him. Togo told Marumota that he didn't and to go away. Muramota, who was standing outside Togo's boarding house room window reached in and hit Togo with his flashlight. Togo, enraged, struck back with the track hammer, hitting Muramota several times and drove him off.
Muramota went to the Kenilworth Hospital for treatment, but later died.
Other deaths deemed not criminal that year, but investigated by the authorities, included the death of a four- year-old child when a boiler used at a lumber operation in Indian Canyon exploded in February and the death of a bar owner in November in Helper who slipped on a broken stair causing a large full keg of beer he was carrying to land on his chest crushing him. They also investigated at least six traffic deaths most of which were a result of driving off the road on either SR-10 or at the time US Highway 50 (Now Highway 6 and 50).