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A Crime in Progress (Utah history)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 05, 2012

It was April 27, 1916, and a crime was being committed in Richfield, Utah. City Marshal Dan Borg had been apprised of the likely commission of that crime and he deputized his brother, Hans Borg, to assist him in detecting the act and arresting the perpetrators.

The two sworn officers, together with W.A. Cheel and a man named Anderson, assembled at dusk and proceeded cautiously toward a cabin owned by Cheel and rented to Clara McCabe, lately arrived from the mining camp at Marysvale. At 9:30 they positioned themselves under the windowsills and listened for an opportune moment to enter. Two hours passed as the posse members bided their time, listening to conversation from inside and occasionally taking furtive peeks through the windows.

Finally, at 11:30, sounds from within assured the lawmen that criminal activity was in progress. With a single kick, Dan Borg broke open the flimsy cabin door and burst inside, followed closely by Hans Borg. Dan struck a match, illuminating the darkened room and its occupants for a brief moment, then the flicker of his match light was answered by two revolver shots.

Hans screamed in pain, his left wrist shattered and his abdomen pierced by bullets. The two brothers fled from the cabin. Its door was slammed shut and barricaded from inside as the posse retreated down the narrow dirt lane.

The three men laid Hans on the ground where he writhed in pain. Dan stayed with his brother while Cheel and Anderson went in search of a doctor – and the county sheriff, the situation having become too much for the marshal to handle alone. Hans Borg was carried to his home for emergency treatment, then rushed to Salina for surgery. Despite the seriousness of his abdominal wound, he would recover.

Dan Borg, with Sheriff C.A. Leavitt, returned to the cabin, again dark and silent. Leavitt identified himself in a loud voice and demanded that the inmates surrender. After speaking back and forth through the closed door, those within became convinced of the lawman’s identity, then opened the door and were peacefully arrested.

They were Clara McCabe, wife of M.J. McCabe of Marysvale, and Albert Williams, a “quiet, inoffensive man” according to the Richfield press. Williams was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit murder. The couple also faced the crime that had brought the posse to eavesdrop through windows and wait in the chilly darkness for hours: They were charged with adultery.

The record does not indicate the outcome of the adultery case (although the couple had been fined a month earlier for committing the same act in Marysvale – a surprising occurrence, perhaps, since the number of saloons and saloon girls in Marysvale at that date far surpassed the number of churches and churchgoers).

Williams was convicted of the assault charge, despite his defense that the lawmen had not identified themselves when breaking violently into the cabin in the dead of night; the arrest was therefore illegal, and his firing had been in self defense. He appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction. Because Williams was knowingly engaged in a crime, the court reasoned, he should have anticipated the arrival of the law, and should have submitted.

Williams was sentenced to an indeterminate term in the state penitentiary.

Two years later he sought a pardon, maintaining that his was a crime of circumstance that would not be repeated. He promised to leave Utah to live with his mother in California. His petition was supported by letters from many who had known him in Marysvale, from the Mormon bishop to the roasters at the alunite mines. One mine supervisor offered him a job. The Marysvale town marshal vouched for his good character. Ordinary citizens complained that he had been treated unfairly.

Williams was released, and, like Clara McCabe, disappeared into the backdrop of a changing American society.



16 Comments »

  1. There’s nothing quite like eavesdropping outside windows for evidence of adultery!

    I wonder, when Williams was released from prison and disappeared, did Clara disappear with him?

    Comment by Mark B. — October 5, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  2. Changing times. However, I think Williams was wrong when he said that the brothers had not identified themselves properly. I have it on good sources that they said upon opening the door, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

    Comment by kevinf — October 5, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  3. “…rushed to Salina for surgery…”

    Undoubtedly to the Trauma Unit in the Emergency Room at the Salina General Hospital.

    Comment by Amy T — October 5, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  4. …And now that I’ve made that wisecrack, I see that Salina actually did have a hospital.

    But the National Register of Historic Places gives a date of 1917. The application also mentions the community influence of Doctors Charles Edwin West and Margaret Arneson Freece, so perhaps one of them would have done the surgery, but it would not have been at the new hospital.

    Comment by Amy T — October 5, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  5. But, by the way, how did they know that the couple were not just inside moving the furniture around?

    I just noticed that it’s about 20 miles from Richfield to Salina. Besides the danger of the abdominal wound, especially in those days before antibiotics, it’s also a miracle that he survived that long nighttime ride in a wagon/buckboard/oxcart. Or was there a car in town by 1916?

    Comment by Mark B. — October 5, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  6. Yes, there were cars in Richfield, although the road between Richfield and Salina was probably not the smoothest. (Oxcarts? /*snort*/ This was southern Utah, not some backwards place like … Brooklyn!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 5, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

  7. Interesting find, Ardis. Any idea if other such morals-related crimes were pursued with similar or equal vigor?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — October 5, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  8. I’ve been to Richfield, and some of those same cars are still there.

    Comment by kevinf — October 5, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  9. Well, Gary, there was that one on November 11, 1943, on Center Street …

    But no, I really don’t see these much, in either newspapers or the court records. I have no idea at all why this one was pursued, or whether it would have made the papers if there hadn’t been a shooting.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 5, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  10. Thanks for the reminder, Ardis. I have to admit I hadn’t thought of the 1943 incident. Although in that instance, I don’t believe any criminal charges were filed. Still, it’s interesting to wonder how aggressively such acts were criminally prosecuted over time.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — October 5, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

  11. I was born in the hospital in Salina years later and both Doctor West and Doctor Freece were gone, but I heard many stories of both. There is an interesting biography by Victoria Burgess, “Dr. Margaret Ann Freece: Entrepreneur of Southern Utah,” in Sister Saints.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — October 5, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

  12. Wow — what a story! From start to finish.

    Comment by David Y. — October 6, 2012 @ 12:37 am

  13. I grew up in Redmond (the fields north of Salina). My mother’s family were all “Jack Mormons” from the Sanpete Valley down to South Sevier near Joseph and Monroe. Reading this was like reading a story that would have been told at one of my family’s Thanksgiving Dinners when I was younger.

    I’m just glad I’m not related to these folks. Luckily my family’s debauchery never made it into the paper (as far as I know).

    Thanks for bringing back some fond memories Ardis. Even if it did involve fornication and prison, it was a fun read, and luckily no one died.

    Comment by Stan — October 8, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

  14. Stan, this is a republication of one of my Trib columns from a couple-three years ago. Just after it was published there I heard from several descendants of the eavesdropping lawmen — there was not the slightest hint of embarrassment from them. I wish I’d heard from descendants of Clara and Albert.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 8, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  15. Dan Borg is my Grandpa Borg, and Hans my great-uncle.
    I’d heard this story from a cousin a while ago, but the details were sketchy. It’s amazing that just 2 generations before me, folks were arrested for adultery by armed officers.
    This is probably the most exciting story I’ve ever read about my family’s history. Thanks for publishing it!

    Comment by Ken Taylor — October 15, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

  16. I’m glad you’re pleased, Ken — I like to give people back their family history.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 15, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

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