Campbell, California. Lying in the heart of Santa Clara County, a periphery city of Silicon Valley and the birthplace of E-Bay. In 1896, 100 years before websites facilitating the auctioning of used underwear and haunted paintings had been dreamt up, Campbell was the scene for a gruesome family killing that saw posses of bounty hunters and bloodhounds, looking to cash in on the reward placed on the head of the murderer, embark on manhunt across mountains and valleys that would span years and eventually, decades.
Gilman, T. (2018). The McGlincy Killings in Campbell California: An 1896 Unsolved Mystery. The History Press, Charleston, SC
“Hattie B. Wells Dunham (1868-1896) – Find A Grave…” Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10998742/hattie-b_-dunham.
Special dispatches to the Chronicle. (1896) ‘The Sextuple Murder Near San Jose’, The San Fransisco Chronicle, 28 May, p.1-3.
San Jose, Cali, May 27. (1896) ‘Dunham a Maniac’, The San Fransisco Call, 28 May, p.2.
San Jose, Cali, June 01. (1896) ‘Price for Dunhams Body’, The San Fransisco Call, 01 June, p.2.
San Jose, Cali, May 01. (1901) ‘Murderer Dunham or His Double is a Prisoner in San Jose Jail’, The San Fransisco Call, 01 may, p.1.
William Campbell (1793-1885), http://philnorf.tripod.com/william.htm.
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Mystery in the West: The McGlincy Murders
Campbell, California. Lying in the heart of Santa Clara County, a periphery city of Silicon Valley and the birthplace of E-Bay. In 1896, 100 years before websites facilitating the auctioning of used underwear and haunted paintings had been dreamt up, Campbell was the scene for a gruesome family killing that saw posses of bounty hunters and bloodhounds, looking to cash in on the reward placed on the head of the murderer, embark on manhunt across mountains and valleys that would span years and eventually, decades. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Campbell, California, 1896
By 1896, the era of the wild, American Frontier was slowly fading into the myth of the Old West. Californias many settlements and townships may still have looked rugged, with their large wooden framed buildings lining a Main Street, saloon nestled up against the town hall, shops with large painted letters across their exterior advertising Grain and Feed, but the equal distribution of realtors, trade unions and red brick buildings showed signs of the rapid gentrification, prosperity and security.
Campbell, a small township lying in the Santa Clara Valley, was one such community. Founder, William Campbell had arrived in California in 1846, following the costly migration 2000 miles across country and had settled with his third wife and son Benjamin, opening a sawmill in Saratoga. The trip had been costly for the family, financially, a migration across the Great Plains in the mid 1800s is estimated to have cost between $35,000 and $75,000 by todays standards, but more profoundly, the trip was taxing on the health of many who made the journey and Williams second wife died shortly after they arrived of Typhoid. The journey made by the Williams wagon train was particularly difficult and included the Donner-Reed party, a group of migrants who had infamously set out across the Great Plains in 1846 and become snowbound in Sierra Nevada, eventually leading to many members partaking in a touch of cannibalism to survive.
In 1851, Benjamin married his fiancee, Mary and bought a 160 acre ranch, where they cultivated hay and grain. At the time, the agricultural output in the region was booming and Benjamin sold a one acre slice of the ranch to the South Pacific Coast Railroad in order for a telegraph station and through track to be built, connecting the area via the local station. Soon after, with the gleaming new rail connections and with the output expanding at such a rate, the area quickly became known as “Orchard City”, responsible for shipping vast quantities of fruit back East across the country. In 1892, the first Fruit Growers Union formed and by 1895, the influx of people drawn to the area by the ranch work had necessitated the expansion of Campbell, with the opening of a handful of general stores and a bank, it cemented its place as the centre for the local ranch hands and growers. In one week, mid-May of 1896, 27,000 lbs of cherries, 184,000 lbs dried prunes, 167,000 lbs wine, 24,000 lbs grape juice and 49,000 lbs of hops were loaded onto the busy trains and shipped out of Campbell, headed East.
The McGlincy Family Ranch
On the 26th May, 1896, as the day was drawing to a close, Colonel McGlincy his step-son James Wells and one of their ranch hands, George Schaeble were on the way home to the large, 54 acre McGlincy Ranch and Orchard on the edge of Campbell. Colonel McGlincy, a prominent member of Campbell society, had spent the evening at a local town meeting for the American Protective Association, a secret, but prominent Anti-Catholic society ran by Protestants with claims that the Catholic Church was an establishment irreconcilable with American Citizenship and held equally strong views on Immigration, although the majority of the groups members themselves were first generation immigrants to America. Despite huge growth in the 1890s, the society was, by 1896, on the brink of extinction and the meetings such that the three men had attended that night, were sharply declining in attendance.
By the time they reached the farmhouse, the sun had dipped below the horizon. Lights shone from the large bay windows out across the yard. As they approached the porch the farm seemed peaceful and the night air lay still in the warmth of early spring. The quiet picture was soon broken, however, as the Colonel stepped up to the porch, unlocked the front door and the sound of a large crack rung through the air, as an axe crashed into his skull.
Colonel Richard McGlincy was born in Jefferson County, West Virginia in 1841. At aged 11, he had worked as an errand boy for the local newspaper until singing up to fight under the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, one fo the Souths most successful generals during the Civil War. During his time serving, he climbed to the rank of Colonel. After his discharge in 1865, he returned to the newspaper, this time acting as foreman until 1868 when, at aged 27, he married Asenath Rhodina McGlincy and moved to Illinois, where he became the editor of the Elgin Gazette. The Colonel was a keen political and social tinkerer and through his position as editor gained popularity locally, eventually leading him to being elected as the secretary for the Elgin board of Trade and serving as the Democratic delegate for the Democratic Congressional Convention. Whilst his social station elected higher and higher throughout Elgin, however, his home life suffered and by 1887, Asenath filed for divorce, sighting alleged cruelty and infidelity claims. That same year, more than likely fleeing a failing reputation, the Colonel moved to San Jose, where he followed much the same trajectory as he had previously in Elgin, becoming the elected officer of Campbell Horticulturists and a prominent member fo the Grape Growers Association of Santa Clara County and in 1894, he once again represented the Democratic Party at the state Democratic Convention in San Fransisco. He remarried a local widow named Ada Marie Wells, and the couple settled on a ranch with Ada’s three children from her previous marriage, Mary Elizabeth, Hattie And James.
By 1896, Mary Elizabeth and James had both left the family farm, but their daughter Hattie had recently moved back home, where she lived with her Husband, James Dunham and their 3 week old infant son, Percy.
The McGlincy family, with their large, richly planted orchard and the Colonels local political dabbling were well known and well respected throughout the area. They lived in a large, white boarded, three story home, fronted by a large porch. The house was situated opposite a sizeable barn, that eclipsed the house and conveyed to all the prosperity of both the McGlincy ranch and the Santa Clara agricultural area as a whole.
Murder on the Ranch
As the Colonel slumped to the floor and Dunham stepped over the body out onto the porch, James Wells and George Schaable, startled, separated in the yard, desperately seeking cover. Unbeknownst to the men, the quiet farm house had suffered a savage series of attacks in the hours that they had spent at the town meeting, remonstrating about Catholics and immigrants.
After the men had left the house for the evening, James Dunham, the Colonels son-in-law married to Hattie McGlincy had returned home to the farmhouse with a plan to eliminate the family. He started his assault at around 9pm, as the members turned in for bed, he entered the upstairs bedroom that housed himself, his wife Hattie and their three week old infant. He first strangled Hattie, forced clothing into her mouth to stifle her screams and then broke her neck. The families domestic servant, Minnie Shesler, who had recently been employed to help out with the child rearing duties was changing into her bedclothes int he adjoining bedroom. When she heard the commotion, she entered the room to see what the problem might have been and as she crossed the room, Dunham struck her across the back of the head with an axe, felling her in one strike. Perhaps in an effort to ensure she was dead, he then crouched over her body and crushed her skull with the blunt side of the weapon. Clearly in something of a confused frenzy, he stuffed her mouth too with clothing, and tossed her body next to that of his wife and strode to the downstairs rooms of the house. Here he quickly found Mrs McGlincy in her room, where he mimicked his earlier savage battery of Minnie, striking her head over a dozen times with the axe. For the time being, his work done, he settled in the house to await the return of the there absent men, though in the downtime, he carefully scoured the rooms for photographs of himself or letters that he written, packing them all away into his luggage, including a large portrait which had hung in the Parlour. Throughout the commotion, another one of the McGlincy families ranch hands, Robert Briscoe, all the while lay sleeping in a small shack built some 100 yards behind the house, completely unaware as to what nightmare had taken part in the large family home of his employer.
As Dunham awaited the arrival of the Colonel and his son, he armed himself with a .38 caliber pistol and .45 calibre revolver. He sat in the still darkness, as his child slept on upstairs, in the cot next to the body of his dead mother.
James Dunham was born in 1865 to Isaac and Kate Dunham, in Dulzura, California, San Diego, ten miles North of the Mexican border. Isaac Dunham was a well off rancher who had prospered and settled with his wife, having three children of which James was the eldest, along with his younger brother and sister Charles and Addie. Growing up as somewhat of a loner, he worked on various ranches throughout the South of California, though periodically it was said he would return home in order to get money from his parents, which, if reports are to be believed, he did via various threats and extortions, at one point strangling his mothers chickens in the yard, wringing their necks one by one until she paid up. Later, whilst working on a ranch he had attempted to strangle his employer, Fred Ackerman and though he walked away from the scuffle relatively lightly, only being sacked from his position rather than arrested for attempted murder, he told the ranch hands he left behind that he wished he had been able to kill him before he had shouted for help and escaped the situation.
When he met and began dating Hattie Wells McGlincy, he was seen by her friends as somewhat of a step-down for the daughter of the well known Colonel and graduate of what was to become San Jose State University. Not overly attractive, or well dressed and supporting himself only through odd jobs, many of Hatties friends openly doubted her motivations, suggesting that she only married him to spite his younger brother Charles, who she had previously been engaged too, until Charles had “went with another girl” promptly ending the relationship in a flurry of heartache and anger.
After the pairs marriage, however, Dunham did make efforts to improve his standing in life and to create something of a stable life for him and his wife, although many of his attempts quickly failed, including forays into candy making, a lemonade stand and an agricultural nursery. The pair moved about throughout California, including Chico, San Fransisco and Sacramento, but nothing ever seemed to take off for Dunham, as far as business was concerned. Eventually, with the birth of their son Percy imminent, the pair returned back to Santa Clara Valley and the McGlincy ranch, where Dunham worked for his father-in-law, during g which time he returned to school to study pre-law at Santa Clara College. His studies were largely successful and he was known as a diligent student, though he often kept to himself, as mentioned later by the schools headmaster,
“He had a cheery way of greeting people, but there was something about him which prevented many from cultivating an acquaintance. He was, in a degree, unapproachable.”
In 1895 his parents passed away, though it appears he didn’t return home, chasing instead to stay with his wife. Their relationship, whilst seemingly okay on the outside showed signs of strain in the details. In the months leading up to the attack, he had fallen from a ladder whilst working on the McGlincy ranch and, perhaps using his newfound legal schooling, took it upon himself to threaten his father in law with punitive damages of $10,000. He had routinely played cards with the Colonel on a nightly basis before the men retired to bed, but in the winter months leading to the spring of 1896, the pair had, according to some reports, stopped talking entirely. Mrs McGlincy, meanwhile was keeping a running commentary in her diary of his failures as a husband to her daughter Hattie, perhaps with a view of using this as evidence in divorce filing. Mrs H Parker, the midwife who had nursed Hattie throughout he pregnancy with their son Percy spoke of how he treated Hattei with a degree of cruelty, but seemed to dearly love their child, always treating it with kindness.
Now, on the night of the 27th May as he stepped over the body of his father-in-law, he looked to finish the job he had started, drawing out his pistil and firing into the night towards the shadowy figures of his brother-in-law James McGlincy and ranch hand George Schaeble, chasing them out into the yard. George Schaeble headed towards the bard, whilst James doubled back, entering the house. Dunham follows suit, firing his pistol, striking him five times, eventually dropping him dead as he fought back desperately with any item of furniture he could toss at the advancing Dunham. Dunham then turned his attention to the Colonel, who, surprisingly, had not died outright from the initial blow of the axe into his head. As he pulled himself through the rooms of the house and attempted to escape through the rear window and run around to the front of the house. As he made his way towards the shack to the rear of the house, where the ranch hand Robert Briscoe had been sleeping, George Schaeble saw, from the cover of the barn, Dunham casually exit the house through the front door and follow the Colonel to the shack, firing his pistol as he walked. When he reached the shack, he pounded on the door, yelling at the colonel to come out and when he got no reply, he fired through the door, which immediately fell limp a the bullets struck the Colonel who had been leant tightly against it, bracing it from Dunhams entry. As Dunham kicked the door in, Brisco sprang through the rear window of the shack, running towards the fence that bordered the Orchard. Turning, Dunham fired twice in quick succession and the shadow of Briscoe fell silently as the still quiet returned, heavy over the scene of the massacre. Dunham walked back to the centre of the yard and called for George, telling him he was next to die, the only reply that came was that of the warm breeze whistling through the orchard. After a moment of consideration, Dunham entered the barn where George hid, but giving it only a cursory look around, to the terrified ranch hands relief, he untied a horse, and without bothering to saddle it up, mounted it and galloped out of the ranch. As the sound of the thundering hooves thumped into the distance, the quiet night fell once more over the ranch. As midnight approached, the moon shone on, lighting up the bodies lying on the ground in the yard.
It wasn’t until 1am that Sheriff Lyndon stepped into the yard of the McGlincy ranch. He had been alerted to the crime scene by both George Schaeble, who had crept out of the barn after Dunham had ridden out of sight and the McGlincys neighbour, Mr Ross, who had also been alerted by the earlier gunshots and arrived on the McGlincy ranch just in time to see Dunham riding off on the unsaddled horse. Both men wasted no time in furnishing the police with a description of both Dunham and the horse, securing a confidence within Sheriff Lyndon that the perpetrator would be in custody by sunrise. As they scoured the home for evidence, they quickly came to realise that Dunham had made some efforts to cover his tracks. The only image of Dunham they were able to find was a single old tintype photograph, though it was enough with the witness descriptions to work on artist renditions for the time being. Whilst searching the rooms for evidence which might suggest a motive, which was, given the lack of robbery, uncomfortably, a complete mystery, they found a small note, scribbled in pencil, on the reverse of a wine company business card lying on Hattie’s bureau, that appeared to be written by the deceased,
“Please say good bye to dear mother, brother and step-father. Hattie”
The note caused some confusion, if Hattie had written it, had she been forewarned that her husband was about to kill her? However, the police later found that the note was a forgery, written by Dunham himself. This discovery only further confused matters. Had he intended Hattie’s murder to appear as a suicide? But this too did not appear to match the violence that had followed throughout the rest of the house. Chillingly, the Coroner inspected the bodies and confirmed that Dunham had murdered the women hours before turning his hand to the returning men, meaning that he had sat calmly awaiting their return surrounded by the bodies of the murdered family for some time. Throughout the house lay fragments of broken wooden chairs and a smashed guitar that suggested that James at least, had been able to put up a solid fight for his life before Dunham finished him with the pistol. This further bolstered the confidence of Sheriff Lyndon, who now appeared to be searching for a man who was potentially carrying some injuries of his own. The Sheriff issued a description of Dunham, accompanied by the tintype found in the house, describing him as,
“An expert bicyclist, and may be on a wheel; about 32 years of age, nearly 6 feet high, weight 165 or 170 lbs, dark hair and moustache. Blue eyes, medium complexion, when last seen he wore a black suit, cutaway coat, black soft hat, No.9 shoes with sharp pointed toes. Walks very erect. Chin recedes when he laughs.”
An inquest was held on the afternoon of the 27th, less than 24 hours after the killings, in the McGlincy home. The main witnesses, George Schaeble and Mr Ross, both gave their account of the evenings events, as well as a man named Charles Steritt, who told the inquest of how he had encountered Dunham further up the road from the McGlincy home. Dunham had stopped his horse in the road to ask the man who he was and what trouble had happened at the mcGlincy home, before flashing a gun in his face and quickly riding off. Whilst the witness testimonies helped police to patch up the story of what exactly had occurred on the previous night, it offered little in the way of explaining a motive, which was thought to simply be “greed”. The main line of thought seemed to point towards Dunhams son, who, being the only member of the family left alive, was in line to inherit the McGlicny ranch which would revert to Dunham given his young age. In 1896, the ranch was estimated to be worth around $75,000, two and a half million by todays standards.
The next day, on the 28th May, the story of the McGlincy Ranch hit the papers in a big way. The San Francisco Chronicle dedicated the first three pages to the story, adorned by an equally exhaustive headline,
“The Sextuple Murder Near San Jose – The Killing of the Family and Servants of R. P. McGlincy in Their Beautiful Country Home – Deatails of the Dreadful Crime Committed by James Dunham While in a Frenzy of Violent Rage – No Mercy Shown by the Cruel Assassin to the Victims of his Murderous Mania”
It included fun transcripts of the witness testimonies from the inquest and included all the grisly details of the murders in predictably dramatic fashion.
“The homestead presents a scene of horror as ghastly as can be woven on relentless murder and defenceless innocence. The broken dishes and furniture, bullet holes, blood, the bodies of the dead, one beholds in every room is as if the demons had infested the habitation with unabating fury so long as life was in sight.”
The Governor of California publicly issued a Reward for the capture, dead or alive, of $1,000, which quickly rose to $11,000 when it was topped up by local business and societies. The description followed word for word from the Sheriffs earlier release, but added that he may have shaved, changed his clothing and shoes and that one of his eyelids dropped slightly. The wanted poster also included two photos of Dunham, one taken in 1889 and one, more recent taking in 1895.
That morning, when searching by the ranch, police found Dunhams bicycle, stashed in a brush by the roadside, which lead police to believe he had left it there as a getaway vehicle in the case he failed to escape on a horse. This all further bolstered the theory the police were well on the way of maturing, that Dunham had carefully planned the killings for some time before he carried them out. Police had discovered that on the morning of the murders, he had left his books at school when as he left, though he would usually have brought them home with him. They had also been interviewing some of the locals, and several had given either them, or the local press, interesting stories. A Mr W. H. Johnson, a legal student, had told press that a few weeks before the murders, he had met Dunham whilst in his tutors office.
“He asked me this question, “Providing a man marries into a wealthy family and has issue and afterward the entire family should die, would that child inherit the entire estate?” I promptly replied, for I had given this subject considerable study, “it would.” He then said “I’m glad of that” and then covered what he said by the further remark, “I’m glad of that, as I intend to study law myself and am anxious to learn legal points.” In talking to me he seemed to speak very rationally, and his actions would indicate that he was a very deliberate man. I knew he intended to study law, and I was not in the least surprised that he asked this question, but little did I think that I was furnishing information upon which Dunham was founding his plot to strike down a whole family.”
The same morning, Dunhams brother Charles spoke out against his brothers state of mind and character, damning him as a villain and cold blooded murderer.
“Don’t talk to me about insanity. He was as sane as you or I but a natural born villain and murderer. He did not act like an insane man. There was a method in his madness from start to finish. He wanted the property. By killing off the whole family he could secure it. He planed cleverly and executed well up to a certain point, when the merest chance, you might say, undid him. He cared not a snap of your fingers of human life. Affection for wife or babe was to him a thing unknown. He has gained the property, but will forfeit his life for it if justice is meted out to him.”
Paradoxically, he went on to talk to the press about his brothers family situation, which countered much of what was believed by locals and the police,
“There is not the slightest truth in any report that there was trouble in the family. My brother and his wife were married a little over a year ago. He loved his wife dearly and she reciprocated his love deeply. The whole family loved him and idolised him, and when I was at the house a week ago to visit them I found them enjoying perfect happiness.”
An arrest warrant on charge of murder was immediately issued after the inquest and Sheriff Lyndon had been busy arranging for a posse of men to ride south, the direction which they assumed Dunham would be heading, en route to Mexico in an area he was familiar with. Lyndon estimated Dunham to have anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 on his person, a considerable sum and one which, naturally would not only aid his escape, but go a long way to ensure his concealment if he was to slip through the law-mans net. That evening, Sheriff Bailou from the Southern county of San Luis Obispo arrived via train with his trusty bloodhound companions. The two dogs, Trim and Flora shared a degree of infamy for tracking murderers in there home county and now, Bailou was keen to spread their talents wider in the search for Dunham, which was well and truly on. The dogs visited the ranch as soon as they arrived, however, Sheriff Bailou had not quite taken into account he sheer amount of commotion that had passed through the ranch in the previous 24 hours. With such a busy crime scene, the dogs failed in picking up a trail for Dunham before they’d even left the boundaries of the ranch.
At 6:30 pm that evening, things began to look brighter for Sheriff Lyndon, when a call came in confirming a sighting of Dunham at the Smiths Creek Hotel, in the foothills of Mount Hamilton, lying just to the East of the Santa Clara Valley. Everett Snell and Oscar Parker, two ranch hands, were on there way home when they crossed paths with a man riding an unsaddled horse, with gunny sacks tied over his feet and a badly scratched face. Snell recognised the man as Dunham, as he had known him before the murders since he had, at one time, worked at the Smith Creek hotel, but Snell played it cool, and spoke casually to the man when he asked the pair if there was a trail ahead that would lead him to the San Joaquin Valley. Snell, with some cheek, calmly confirmed that there was, but instead directed Dunham back to the main road, thinking that he would be much more likely to be caught if he was out in the open. Unfortunately, possibly realising the danger, Dunham said he’d take the trail over the mountain instead, but Snell countered by telling him that there had recently been trouble over the mountain with cattle thieves and that he would be much better off going along the “trail” that he’d suggested, unless he wanted to potentially be mistaken for a cattle thief and get caught up with the law. Parker then alarmingly, with the reward in mind, invited Dunham back to his cabin to rest, Dunham had told the two men of how he had had little to eat and had previously broken into a cabin and stolen a piece of bacon, which, as it turned out, happened to be Parkers cabin, but Dunham declined the offer saying he wanted to get through the trail that night. He thanked the men and rode off towards the main road, at which point Snell and Parker quickly returned home and contacted the Sheriff, telling him of their deception of Dunham and the direction he was headed. It was gold for Sheriff Lyndon, who instantly put together a posse consisting of himself, Sheriff Bailou, his two hounds, the three deputy sheriffs, six constables and over twenty bounty hunters and who were keen to catch Dunham and claim the $11,000 reward for themselves. The wagon train was closely tailed by over a dozen members of the press and as the whole procession left Campbell, crowds came ou t onto the street to cheer the men on. By 10pm the crew reached Smiths Creek Hotel and spread out across the foot of the mountain range, Sherif Lyndon instructed them to fire two shots into the air in quick succession, then to pause and fire two more as a signal they had found Dunham, who they all presumed would not come quietly and so backup would almost certainly be required to drag him in. Quickly, weather fell against the men, however, and by 1am, a dense fog had rolled from the mountain and fired them to return to the hotel which was acting as a temporary headquarters and wait fo ritz’s to clear. Determined to not let Dunham get ahead of them, Lyndon went back out onto the mountain at 3am when the fog cleared, but at dawn, every man returned to the hotel, one by one, empty handed. Only partially disheartened, Sheriff Lyndon was confident that, although Dunham had so far eluded their capture, he could not escape the mountain trail, as he had posted sentries on every possible exit route and in a telephone conversation with the press from the hotel, informed them that he had every confidence that Dunham would be in custody by 9am. The manhunt featured in every newspaper across the country that morning,
“The trails available for horses will be so guarded that he will be caught if he keeps to them, if he abandons the horse and tries his luck afoot his progress will be quickly overtaken. Several persons reported as travelling the trail and supposed to be the murderer were run down tonight, only to discover that they were not the fugitive. Every member fo the party is eager for daylight to resume the pursuit, which has become exceedingly exciting as the nearness of their game is made evident.”
9am came and went, however, and there had been no sign of Dunham leaving the mountain, not on the trails. Contrary to his brother Charles earlier remarks discussing Dunham and Hattie’s marriage, the story was surrounded by small snippets of information on Dunhams character, declaring him as a “brutal husband” with a history of domestic violence and controlling behaviours.
That Thursday saw the funeral of Minnie Schessler, the McGlincy hand maid at the First Christian Church in Campbell and the next day, the funerals of the rest of the McGlincy family were buried at the Congregational church. The funeral procession left the ranch at 2pm and was followed by more than 400 carriages that snaked through San Jose. The hunt for Dunham meanwhile, had gone temporarily cold. It was just as the Sheriff and his men were returning to Campbell that evening at 9pm that they got a call with a witness sighting of Dunhams horse. The report said that a man who was familiar with the McGlincy Ranch had seen one fo their horses named Honey out on a trail in Indian Gulch, five miles from the Smiths Creek Hotel. With almost no time to resupply, the Sheriff turned back around and after calling for the help of a local man familiar with the McGlincy horses, left once again for the Mountains. They quickly found the horse and after the man called after Honey, who responded to her name, the Sheriff was satisfied it was Dunhams horse. Dunham himself however was no where to be found. The party split up searching the area and found a small campsite, 60 yards away from where the horse had been tied, that showed signs of having been used the night before along with torn scraps of the San Jose Mercury newspaper, which contained the story of the manhunt and the Sherifs plan to enlist Sheriff Ballous bloodhounds. Convinced Dunham had abandoned his horse due to the difficult terrain on the main trail and ventured into the forest trail, the hounds were called for and the hunt, was once again, on for the elusive Dunham. As the men searched after Dunham, a single gunshot rang out across the mountain. Pausing to wait for the further shots that would confirm it as a signal, the Sheriff held his breath, but no further shots came. Initially, this lead police to believe that Dunham had perhaps turned his pistol on himself and committed suicide and so, in the wake of the gunshot, the search party were alerted to be on the look out for a body, rather than living fugitive, but this line of thought was damaged for some, when the next morning, tracks leading off of the trail in San Antonio Valley were found. This left the Sheriff in difficult position. Either Dunham had committed suicide on the mountain and his men needed to scour the mountainside looking for his body, or Dunham had concocted a clever ruse and slipped through the tightening net and pursuit of the man, very much alive, was in order, and quickly. After so much bluster and confidence in their ability to capture Dunham, the Sheriff was now facing an awkward chat with the press, who were frothing at the mouth awaiting details of the search, along with a fervent public, who were waiting in crowds outside the San Jose courthouse awaiting news and who were circulating plans of a lynching. Sheriff Lyndon chose to play it vague, which, fortunately for him, was deemed by many to be a sign that he had in fact already caught Dunham and was playing it down in order to avoid a mob gathering at the station.
In reality, Sherif Lyndon was busy following the trail of a pointed toed shoe, thought to be that of Dunhams, from a cabin on the mountainside that had been recently broken into. Sheriff Lyndon split his posse into two, with one group searching the area where the single gunshot had been previously fired in the hopes of finding Dunhams body, whilst the other group pursued the trail South East, across several difficult to pass Gulches. The situation back in the Smiths Creek Hotel, hover, was something of a party atmosphere. The hotel had been packed to the rafters with armed bounty hunters who were either “hot on the trail” of Dunham, or making out they were to some effect as they drank and sang throughout the nights. Many believed that Dunham had shot himself and were in less of a hurry as the Sheriff to get back out to the difficult terrain. Many others however, took note that as they had seen no buzzards hovering across the mountainside, he was almost certainly still alive.
As the weekend passed and no further news of Dunhams capture leaked out of the press, the public became more and more restless. By Monday, a circular was making the rounds of San Jose, acting as something of a call to arms,
“Dear sir, This invitation and notice is given because father confidence reposed in you that it’s contents will not be divulged. The scene of the most heartless crime of history has been laid in our county (near our own homes). James C Dunham has foully murdered three women and three men. The murderer is at liberty, with chances strongly in favour of his escape. The laws of our state offer no substantial aid in bringing about his capture. Believing it to be the duty of every citizen to aid in supporting the laws of the land – and when the law is inadequate, to heroically come to it’s support – you are appealed to by a committee to meet, in company wit many of our best citizen at the courthouse, in the courtroom of Department 1, this Monday evening, June 1st, at the hour of 8 o’clock sharp, for the purpose of devising ways and means for assisting in the work of pursuing and capturing murderer James C Dunham. Be assured that this meetings not called for the purpose of forming a vigilance committee, but solely for the purpose of lawfully assisting the officers and the law in bringing to justice the most vicious criminal in the history of this country. You have the privilege of bringing with you any responsible citizen who will assist, providing that you, as a man of honour, will vouch for his responsibility. Present this notice at the inner door of the courtroom of Department 1.”
This cricular was signed off by the apparently newly formed “Committee of Safety”, and as sketchy as it may have sounded, over fifty men presented themselves at the meeting, where they discussed co-operatively hiring Private Detectives, whilst others suggested the reward be raised to $50,000, claiming that the men of Campbell “do not do things by halves.” All of this, of course, only lead to further subtle criticism of Sheriff Lyndon in the press for failing to yet capture Dunham.
“The people of the city feel a deep chagrin and impatience that the murderer of a whole family should have ridden away from his awful work out of the country to safety – a man with a bareback horse and no provisions.”
That night, however, further sightings re-ignited the confidence of the now lagging Sheriff, it also silenced much fo the debate, though not entirely, that suggested Dunham may have killed himself in the Gulch. 10 Miles South of Indian Gulch, in the San Felipe Valley, one of the locals, a man named Wood Wadlams told the local Sheriff that he had trailed bicycle tracks, interspersed with tracks of the infamous pointed shoes down to the Coe Ranch. Mr Coe, who had not yet heard of the murders, had reportedly told him that he’d seen Dunham the night previously when he had turned up at his door looking for food. Mr Coe, he said, had sold him food, a rifle and thirty rounds of ammunition for $50 and the following day, on the McGilrath ranch, Dunham had allegedly approached a young ranch hand claiming to be sick and had paid him $5 to go into town and buy him some whiskey. As the news spread and Wadlams discovered that Dunham was a wanted man, he quickly called in the Sheriff, however, the next day, after rushing down to the ranch, Lyndon found out the sightings were looking more and more likely to be a hoax. Mr Coe himself denied the story, saying he had not seen Dunham for years, along with every supposed witness on the McGilrath ranch. It later turned out that Wood Wadlams had spun the tail out of thin air in an effort to impress a young lady he was chasing. This report was not the only hoax that had been rung in to the Sheriffs office and now, as the public became more and more frantic and the story grew in size, Sheriff Lyndon became inundated with unlikely leads and straight hoaxes during into his office on a daily basis. In a reasonably polite response, one officer told the press,
“These men of the mountains are, many fo them, dreamers; some of them suffering from what is commonly known as “Shepherds Delight” and allow their imagination to form theories, which to them soon seem realities. In this case in the mountains the efforts of the officers are obstructed by these unreliable yarns.”
The newspapers wasted no time in branding Wadlams a “wild-eyed lunatic.” Once again the tone shifted in the reports concerning the Sheriff, which now began to offer a grain of sympathy for the problems that the snowed under officer had to contend with. Still no solid leads were forthcoming for a further three days, until Thursday the 4th June, when in the afternoon, Sheriff Lyndon heard report from one his deputies that had been previously dispatched to Fresno County. Deputy Edson, reported to the Sheriff that a man matching Dunhams description down to the very clothes on his back had been spotted by an un-named, but assuredly “reliable man” by Hayes Station in the Wesern Foothills of Fresno County. This witness apparently had never seen Dunham nor knew of him before the murders, but was able to furnish the deputy with a complete description of his clothing, shoes and hat that satisfied the deputy that the sighting was genuine. As the officers made their way South East, they further discovered that Dunham had stopped over for a night at the Mercer Ranch in Little Pinoche Valley, where Mrs Mercer had offered him food and bed for a night. Dunham accepted the food, but chose instead to sleep down by the nearby creek. Upon being shown Dunhams photograph by Lyndon, Mrs Mercer confirmed that it had been the fugitive. The Fresno police were not entirely forthcoming with help for Sheriff Lyndon, stating that as soon as they had specific confirmation that Dunham was in the county, they would offer up help in the manhunt.
At the same time, a call came in of a witness sighting from king City, in neighbouring Monterey County. The Sheriff chose to head to the city in an effort to cut off Dunham before he could leave again, however the report once again, turned out to be a hoax an day the time the Sheriff returned to Fresno County, it was seemingly likely that Dunham would have already left the borders of the county for good. Clutching at straws and with the trail growing increasingly cold, Sheriff Lyndon returned to Campbell to collect the McGlincy family dog, which he thought might be able to assist the search back in Indian Gulch for Dunhams body, which many still suspected lay in the hills after his suicide. Unsurprisingly, the dog turned out to be no help at all and once more, the Sheriff was forced to return to Campbell empty handed.
As the trail of Dunham grew colder, the days, weals and months rolled by, with no convincing leads coming from anywhere. That wasn’t to say that all leads had stopped coming into the sheriffs office entirely, and despite the story slow fading to the middle pages of the newspapers, daily sightings and hoaxes still made it through to Lyndon, who had the unappealing task of sifting through them. One, a letter adorned with a string of dead mouse, simply stated,
“This is the way I did my family and this is the way I will treat you if you are there when I come around.”
Although it probably didn’t need testing, it was clear that the handwriting didn’t match that of Dunhams and this was written off as just one of the numerous hoaxes that acted to fill the void created myth e absence of any real information on the case. Throughout the summer months of 1896, several men were arrested, including Frank Dalton, who had been arrested in North Dakota for stealing a bicycle and who local police believed matched Dunhams description. Once furnished with a photograph however, they soon dropped the charge and the man was cleared of suspicion. The manhunt for Dunham was now looking increasingly like a failure and slowly, the story slipped out of the minds of the Californian population as the story in the press became an occasional curiosity rather than a daily excitement.
Months turned to years, and in 1899, Sheriff Lyndon, now thoroughly out of favour, lost the local election and was replaced by Sheriff Robert Langford who won with a majority of 144 votes. With his position, Sheriff Langford had also inherited the Dunham case and it was not long before the manhunt was back in the news. Within three weeks of his taking office, Dunham was once again stealing headlines with reported sightings, including one from a Sheriff in Iowa who was convinced he held Dunham in custody under another name. And so the story of Dunham continued on, inspiring bounty hunters who still coveted the considerable reward for his capture. Amongst those bounty hunters who ventured out into the foothills in pursuit of Dunham were three teenage boys, Charles Fisher, and Brothers Ed and William Gruell, who deciding that school was boring, skipped out. They took it upon themselves to steal their fathers watch and bicycle, which they promptly sold and used the proceeds to buy a donkey. Borrowing a cart from a neighbour, they filled the back with three hammers, three axes, two guns and a generous supply of jam which they stole from a neighbours pantry. Unfortunately, their bold posse did not make it far, and the boys were caught before hey had even gotten out of the city limits and bought home to their fuming parents. This story followed a recent discovery of a skeleton on the Pacheco Pass, in the Santa Clara hills. The skeleton was discovered by two young boys riding their bikes across the pass. They quickly rode to the Sheriffs office and told him of how they’d found skeleton with a cloth bandage wrapped around what would have been the mans face. The sheriff accompanied the boys back out to the pass, but in their initial shock and haste to get to the Sheriffs office, they were unable to retrace their steps and the skeleton was never seen again.
In 1901, the Dunham case was now sliding deep into the past, however occasional stories in the newspapers kept it barely alive in the minds of the locals to Santa Clara County. In May, now five years after the murders, A man going by the name of Charles Crill was arrested on the suspicion of being James Dunham and charged with the murders of the McGlincy family. The arrest saw the McGlincy family murders once again strike bold front page headlines, with the San Fransisco Call running confidently,
“Murderer Dunham or His Double is a Prisoner in San Jose jail – Sheriff Langford and Deputy Bache return from Kansas with a captive who is alleged to have confessed that he exterminated the McGlincy family – In every detail the suspect’s appearance tallies with the description of the Campbell fugitive, and officers are confident he is the man.”
The paper printed a sworn affidavit from the former Marshall of Burlington, Iowa, including the alleged confession, which read,
“E. F. Greiner, being first duly sworn, deposes and says that C. F. Crill, not being under arrest, in confidence made the following statement, voluntarily and not under duress, to wit: That he, C. F. Crill, at Santa Clara County, California, did kill the McGlincys, and that after so killing them fled to Mexico, and, being able to speak Spanish, was therefore safe in Mexico. He said if he should veer be arrested for killing the McGlincys he would kill himelf, if he had the opportunity, either by asking “dope”, as he carried poison with him, or by throwing himself under a moving train, or he would grab a revolver from the officer, as he knew it would be all up with him if they got him out to California. And further the deponent spoke not. Signed, E. F. Greiner”
Greiner was, it appears, stalking Crill on suspicion that he was Dunham. Crill had made a drinking partner of Greiner and the pair had met nightly to drink in bars across Wichita. One night, Crill had apparently made the confession, completely unaware that greener was essentially working as an undercover bounty hunter, hot not he trail of the unclaimed reward. Throughout this period, Greiner was in communication with the local Iowa Sheriff and once he was sure that he had the right man, he told the Sheriff of his certainty, who contacted Sheriff Langford in Santa Clara, telling him that they had Dunham and he should come and collect him. Crill agreed to go to Santa Clara with Langford, on the condition that if he was found to not be the hunted man, his expenses and a return ticket would be paid for by the state. As soon as the pair returned to Santa Clara, acquaintances and people familiar with Dunham were called upon to visit his cell and to help identify him. In total, over one thousand people would be paraded back and forth in front of this cell, with opinion firmly split over a positive identification. All the while, Crill worked to coperate with the police, standing in various poses for the identifications. He was sure that he would be found innocent, telling the press that he’d never even been to California before his arrest.
“I am not James Dunham, the murderer. I was never here and never left here to avoid arrest. In 1896, at the time of the Dunham murders, I was in Leadville, Colorado. I fixed the date by the great Leadville strike, which I think, starts don June 14th, 1896. For two years from that time I was either in Pueblo Cripple Creek.”
He challenged that if he were guilty, would he not have been more afraid to come to Santa Clara on account he may be lynched by the locals and furnished the papers with a backstory to his life, stating his birthplace was New York, had left home when he was eighteen years old following the death of his parents and had been something of a wanderer ever since. The only solid evidence he could offer of his identification, however, was a letter written by a young child which he claimed was his own, born to his wife who lived in Colorado, addressed to Charles Crill. He admitted also that he had spent time in Mexico since the date fo the murders. Sheriff Langford remained confident, stating,
“I think I have the right man. Anyhow, if he is innocent he can prove his identity.”
The similarities do appear to be remarkable. Crill was the same height, weight and shoe size as Dunham, although he was ten years older as far as he stated. The pair shared the same colour eyes and hair, as well as missing teeth and an identical scar caused by a knife wound on the back of the neck. Crills handwriting was said to bear a close resemblance to that of Dunhams, and although he denied it, Sherif Langford was quite sure he understood Spanish, Dunhams second language. The testimonies of acquaintances ranged from the extremes, right across the spectrum, from old classmates who could not be sure of his identity, to neighbours who were convicted the man was Dunham and family friends who swore he was not.
Eventually, Crill was positively identified as not Dunham by a priest named Father Leggio, who had officiated over his marriage in 1887. The priest showed up to the jail cell and borrowing a large coat and hat from Sheriff Langford to conceal both his religious attire and his own identity, he visited Crill in his cell, questioning him on his life upon until his marriage. Once he was satisfied that the man knew details of the ceremony that only Crill could possibly know, he took off his disguise and congratulated Crill on his innocence. With no choice but to except that he the wrong man, Sheriff Langford released Crill on the May 11th paying his return fair to Iowa as promised.
The Boulder Creek Cabin
In June of 1902, one curious report came in to Sheriff Langford from Boulder Creek, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A local timber prospector, Mr H. Duwall, had been out in the forested area, when he had spied a pillar of smoke pouring up from a concealed area. Curious, he called out to the owner, but was given no response. Paying it no mind, he returned home, but a week later, curiosity go tthe better of him and he once again returned to he same spot to investigate further. As he climbed down the difficult creviced region, he found a small wood cabin, painted green in order to camouflage it into the background. When he entered the cabin, he found it recently abandoned. The cabin was furnished with a stove and oven and there were canned goods, along with the carcasses of rabbits and quail hanging nearby. Duwall also found a complete file of newspaper cuttings chronicling the McGlincy murders and the manhunt for Dunham which continued right up until the 27th May, the very same day he had stumbled across the smoking chimney and called out to the owner a week prior.
A Note Lost in Time
In 1905, Sheriff Langford passed away due to illness and was replaced by Sheriff Frank Ross. Now, a decade and three generations of Sheriff deep, the story of the McGlincy family murders and the escape of Dunham had well and truly faded from public view, though the case was still technically open. Very little was heard, however, until in 1911, when James Johnson and Joseph Schmidt, a pair of hunters were out hunting on Pine Ridge near the base of the Santa Clara Mountains when they found a jar with a tightly screwed on lid. Inside was a note, written on ageing paper that read,
“This is to certify that I am Jim Dunham, the murderer of Santa Clara County. You will find my bones across the Gulch in a cave. I gave you a good run Sheriff. Good bye to my darling baby. You surely are a poor Sheriff. I could have shot you a number of times. You owe your life to me.”
The note, despite it’s wild claims, proved to be a close match for Dunhams and though for many it closed the case on the McGlincy murders, proving that Dunham had committed suicide in the Gulch, many others considered that it may simply have been a red herring placed by Dunham during his escape in a effort to send the law on the wrong path. Whichever it was, the public had largely lost interest in the story by now and the note only gained small interest and column inches in the local paper. A suicide note which truly acted as closure or not, the case was, for all intents and purposes. Finished in the eyes of the press and the public, leaving it to fall into a permanent stasis. An open case with no conclusion, as cold as the trail of Dunham ever was.
Aftermath & Conclusions
The McGlincy Ranch was eventually inherited by Dunham and Hattie’s son Percy, who had been adopted by an Aunt, Lucy Brewer, who lived in San Francisco where his name was changed and he lived, until hi seventh death in 1969. The McGlincy family home, scene of the crime itself was demolished 14 years prior, in 1955. As for Dunham, he was never found and the mystery of his escape never fully uncovered. Many believed he committed suicide in the Gulch when the Sheriff and his posse had heard the single gunshot in the distance, though many more believed he slipped through the fingers of the search party and bounty hunters who chased him, disappearing across the Mexican border, into a life of freedom. Then what of the peculiar story of the wood cabin, which, if you are believe Dunham was the resident, meant that he may well have simply took up a life lying low in the foothills of the mountains, slowly growing older as he collected cutouts of his murderous spree, decades before. Whichever theory we chose to latch onto, we are all left in the same place, wondering how on earth he had managed to slip through the hands of so many, who were very well motivated, and where does his body lie now? Is it in a cemetery somewhere south of the border, or buried on a hillside in Santa Clara by years of rotting vegetation and passing seasons of over one hundred and twenty years.