The Shrum Murder Mystery (Part 2)

Previously, we examined the murder of A.J. Shrum in his Round Valley field one evening in July, 1878. The authorities decided the deed was committed by eighteen-year-old Jesse Anthony so that his older brother, James, would be free to pursue the affection shown him by Mrs. Lizzie Shrum. All three were charged with murder. Jesse's initial trial resulted in a hung jury. James, on the other hand, was convicted and languished in the county jail while he appealed the verdict. On the first Friday in November, 1879, James Anthony and Dr. John F. Wheeler, a Mendocino dentist incarcerated on murder charges, escaped from the jail on horseback. The only witness to their dash north in the dark was a young musician, Nancy “Noonie” Boulon.

We pick up the story there: Mrs. Boulon rushed into the county courthouse, located under Sheriff Seawell, and told him about the two suspicious figures who galloped their horses out of town. Seawell not only found their cells empty, but each had left a letter of sorts behind. The correspondences were addressed to Sheriff J.R. Moore. Wheeler's writing is better left to a full examination of his case. Obviously, both professed their innocence. James Anthony accused the chief witness against him of perjury. However, Anthony also expressed regret at leaving the sheriff's hospitable mansion, and said he “had stayed as long as staying would do any good; that the Board of Supervisors had hired a lawyer to fight his application for a new trial before the [State] Supreme Court.”

Two other men locked in the same row of cells with Anthony and Wheeler remained in the jail. According to the Mendocino Beacon, they “politely refused the invitation of Wheeler to take 'a trip o'er the mountains' with him.”

The night of Wheeler and Anthony's escape proved intensely dark, with clouds covering the moon and starlight that might otherwise have been available. The two prisoners missed the turn to a trail that could have lead them east then north to Potter Valley. Their horses faltered in the gloom, each tumbling into a broad ditch.

When the pair dusted off and tugged their mounts from the ditch they lost all sense of direction. Taking to the saddle once more, they turned their horses south, riding directly into the pursuing posse a tad north of Calpella. James Anthony threw up his arms in surrender. Wheeler pretended to take the armed men as robbers. One of the deputized men closest to him, Paul Boulon (the husband of Noonie Boulon) drew his pistol to cover Wheeler, ordering him to halt. The unarmed Wheeler edged his mount away, saying he didn't have any money, that he was a simple, hard working man with many children. He jumped from the horse and raced away into the brush without a shot being fired. 

Anthony returned to jail. Wheeler's fate will someday be accounted for in a lengthier version than this. At the end of November, the California Supreme Court continued James Anthony's appeal into the 1880 docket. In December, the re-trial of Jesse Anthony was carried over, by mutual agreement, until the court's spring term. That same month, R.W. Briggs, the proprietor of the Ukiah stable from which Dr. Wheeler and James Anthony acquired two saddled horses, was arrested on a bench warrant for assisting in their escape. The following May, 1880, Mr. Briggs was found not guilty of the charge by a jury of his fellow citizens.

In July 1880, just past two years to the day from the killing of her husband, Lizzie Shrum's trial finally got underway. It didn't proceed in the usual manner, as Lizzie reported herself too sick to continue. The case was postponed from a morning session until two in the afternoon. At that hour she failed to show, sending word that she remained too ill. A deputation of physicians was sent to her. They pronounced her physically sound, but suffering from “nervous excitement.”

Judge Hudson, sitting in from his usual Lake County bench, ordered her brought into court even if upon a bed. This, of course, only piqued more public interest in the case.

Perhaps the sight of Lizzie Shrum on a bed in court proved too much. More likely the lack of direct evidence linking her to the actual deed, precipitated the prosecution to beseech the court for an acquittal.

Five months hence, in December, 1880, Lizzie married for the second time. No, not to either of the Anthony brothers. On the winter solstice, she wed in Marysville, to Duncan Berry, native of Dundee, Scotland, and precisely thirteen years her senior, the same age as A. J. Shrum, if he had lived. Duncan Berry was no stranger to family tragedy. By 1880 he had outlived both parents along with three younger brothers and three younger sisters.

Earlier, in September, 1880, James, along with two of Dr. Wheeler's co-conspirators, once again plotted an escape from the jail in Ukiah. Sheriff Donohoe and his deputies confiscated seven skeleton keys fabricated by Anthony. He had made two that fitted the prisoners' shackles and fashioned five more for the cell doors. The keys may have been prepared in anticipation of James Anthony's impending legal status. A few days later, the California Supreme Court denied his appeal, ordering him sent to San Quentin to fulfill a life sentence. Eventually, he ended up at Folsom Prison.

Delays and continuances in the re-trial of Jesse Anthony dragged into 1881, meanwhile he remained free on bond. The Mendocino Dispatch Democrat, publishing in Ukiah, took this point of view about Jesse's legal chances. “Hon. Barclay Henley is associate counsel with A[rchibald] Yell, District Attorney for Mendocino county, in the murder trial of Jesse Anthony to take place in this city during the present month.

“Anthony had better settle up his worldly affairs at once. With such a Yell as Mendocino county generally sends against a poor devil charged with high crimes, backed by Barclay Henley, the criminal sharp-shooter and bulls-eye maker of Sonoma county, his chances for San Quentin or the other world are better than his prospects anywhere else.”

Perhaps others were too impatient to wait for courtroom “sharp-shooters.” In mid-April, 1881, Jesse Anthony, while attending to affairs surrounding the recent death of his father, Josiah, rode horseback one day over Mt. Sanhedrin on his way to Round Valley. He was hailed by multiple men who ordered him to halt his mount. When he declined, they opened fire with Winchesters. One bullet tore a hole in his saddle, another split the top of his hat, but none of the rounds struck the intended target. The Mendocino Beacon, seemingly taking a much different approach than theDispatch Democrat, wondered, “Jesse's adventure causes profound surprise, inasmuch as there can be no rational excuse for killing him at this juncture.”

Jesse's trial did not get under way until late September. Again, Judge Hudson presided. The prosecution did not have Brown's testimony to impeach James Anthony. The defense called several witnesses who testified that Jesse could not have been anywhere near the Shrum property on the night of the murder. After less than three and a half hours of deliberation, the jury brought in a not guilty verdict.

That finding precipitated the circulation of a petition for the pardon of James Anthony throughout Mendocino County and on to the governor. The premise of the petition stated that along with testimony that James Anthony spent the entire evening and night of the killing at least fifteen miles away, his alleged co-conspirators, brother Jesse and Lizzie Shrum, had been acquitted of the same charge. Therefore, why should James be punished? The Dispatch Democrat, which had seemingly taunted Jesse Anthony before his re-trial, presented the petition for pardon in a favorable editorial.

At Folsom, James applied his mechanical talents to a more communal use. In January, 1882, the Pacific Bee, of Sacramento, recounted, “James Anthony, one of the prisoners, who is an accomplished electrician, is at work preparing an electric light for the Prison yard.”

In an ironic juxtaposition an autumn, 1882, edition of the Folsom Telegraph reported, “A convict escaped from prison Wednesday night last by means of a rope suspended from a window... James Anthony, who was some two years since imprisoned upon a false charge of murder, was last Thursday pardoned and set at liberty.” To clarify, the references concerned two distinctly separate incidents. 

Lizzie Shrum's son, William, took his step-father's surname as his own. Lizzie had no further children. She lived much of her later years in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. She died less than two months short of her seventieth birthday in 1922.

Jesse married in 1884, but survived only into his forty-sixth year. James Anthony also married, to a young woman named Jennie Sparks. They had six children over a fifteen year span. He earned his living as a saloon keeper back in Round Valley for a time. By the 1910 census, Jennie was living in Marysville, along with five of her children and two grandchildren. She claimed to be widowed. Nevertheless, James appeared to be very much alive. He showed up in the 1930 census as a lodger in a home in Sutter County. He died there two years later.

No one else was pursued or investigated for the murder of Andrew Jackson Shrum.

(More Mendocino murders and mysteries at malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)

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