The Roaring Twenties had just begun to roar, you couldn't buy a drink in Ukiah but you could in Point Arena, brothels catering to the transient men of the booming logging industry were the social centers of the county's big towns, and bootleg whiskey by the ton was ferried from Canadian mother ships off the wild Mendocino Coast and driven down dusty 101 to thirsty customers in the Bay Area.
On Monday, November 7, 1921 logger Edward E. Bishop drove off from Camp 16 northwest of Albion in his Ford roadster. Accompanying him was a man named Jack Carlisle, a fellow logger in the Ten Mile woods area who was drawn, like Bishop, to Mendocino County to work in the timber boom. By all accounts Bishop said he'd be back to the encampment of modest worker cabins by sunset.
The next day Jack Carlisle drove his friend's Ford roadster back into Camp 16, but without Bishop. Carlisle told the camp foreman, A.O. Peterson, that Bishop had decided spur-of-the-moment to look for work in San Francisco. Carlisle said he'd been asked to pack up all Bishop's clothes and possessions, and send them down to the city once Bishop had secured a new job and a permanent address.
Foreman Peterson was accustomed to dealing with hard, itinerant men living paycheck to paycheck, and he was immediately suspicious of Carlisle's story. Why hadn't Bishop taken his clothes and belongings with him? Why had he sold his only means of transportation, his treasured roadster, for mere $125? Something was fishy, and it wasn't just the trawlers docked at Noyo harbor.
However skeptical he might have been, the world-wise Peterson didn't rush to judgment. Bishop wouldn't be the first logger to disappear on a booze-fueled odyssey through the local speakeasies and whorehouses, only to return to Camp 16 (and his job) once he sobered up. These boys worked hard and played hard, but Bishop's absence and Carlisle's account of it aroused Peterson's suspicions.
When Bishop was still absent after a few days, Peterson called Ukiah to report that Bishop had disappeared.
The investigation was initially delayed because the intrepid Mendocino County Sheriff Ben Byrnes was on sick leave. But on November 16, nine days after Bishop had vanished, Deputy Ward Reise was assigned to investigate.
Naturally, suspicions immediately focused on Jack Carlisle. One co-worker said that Carlisle asserted he'd paid $175 (not his previous claim of $125) for Bishop's Ford, while another witness heard Carlisle bragging that he'd been given the car for free. Another Camp 16 logger said that Carlisle had uttered these ominous words: “Bishop will never come back.”
On Monday, November 28, Deputy Reise received a phone call from a concerned citizen that Carlisle had passed through Wendling (now Navarro) peddling a particularly potent form of Prohibition Era rotgut known as “jackass.” Carlisle had allegedly flashed a pistol and grinned: “No cop will ever get me.” The sharp-eyed Deepend citizen recognized the weapon as belonging to the missing Bishop, and even informed the deputy in which pocket Carlisle carried the weapon.
A day later, Deputy Reise spotted Carlisle sitting on a quiet Fort Bragg street in the Ford roadster, a young woman at his side. The crafty lawman snuck up to the car and, just as the oblivious Carlisle reached for the ignition to drive off, deftly removed the gun from the surprised suspect's pocket and arrested him. A master pickpocket couldn't have done it better.
A quick search of the suspect revealed that Carlisle was carrying Bishop's wallet, bankbook and keys. He also had a bill of sale and ownership of the Ford roadster, though he later admitted to having forged the document.
Carlisle was hauled over the hill and booked into the Ukiah City Jail. The suspect maintained his innocence, sticking by his see-through claim that Bishop had sold him the car then vamoosed to San Francisco.
But after two days of constant interrogation, Carlisle startled Sheriff Byrnes and Deputy Reise: if they would let him view Bishop's corpse and explain the location and details of the murder, then maybe he'd explain what had happened.
It was a vague and strange admission of guilt, but hardly enough for a conviction. Sheriff Byrnes retired from the interrogation room, but Deputy Reise pressed on.
Hoping to exploit the crack in Carlisle's facade of innocence, Deputy Reise bluffed and told Carlisle that they'd picked up a body in the woods, and that he was going to Comptche to get Camp 16 boss A.O. Peterson to identify the remains. He also said that the young woman who was in the Ford roadster when Carlisle had been arrested would be brought in for questioning.
His conscience wheezing out of its coma, a somber Carlisle at this point admitted to the deputy: “The joke's on me, but the young lady don't know nothin' about it.” He then conceded, “Well, Ward, to tell the truth, I bumped him.”
An excited Deputy Reise called Sheriff Byrnes to rejoin the interrogation party, and Carlisle admitted to the slaying of Bishop, and also sketched the location in the Ten Mile woods where his old friend's body was buried. But there were extenuating circumstances, claimed Carlisle, and he wasn't as guilty as he seemed.
Carlisle said that Bishop, himself and an anonymous third man whom he refused to identify had stolen $45,000 worth of opium; then Carlisle and his mystery accomplice buried it in the woods near Camp 5, north of Fort Bragg.
Opium? Widely in use as a cure-all for a range of ailments at the time, there was a big market for the quasi-legal drug. After all cocaine was still the magic ingredient in Coca Cola.
But, Carlisle claimed, on the Tuesday, November 22 when Carlisle took Bishop to retrieve their buried stash, the dope was gone. Carlisle blamed its disappearance on the enigmatic third man: the scoundrel had betrayed and dishonored his kindred thieves, and made off with the opium. But Bishop accused Carlisle if the theft, and they'd fought.
Carlisle claimed the enraged Bishop drew a gun and fired at Carlisle. The shot missed his skull but tore a hole in his hat. Carlisle stated that it was purely in self-defense when he returned fire, and killing Bishop. He said he was standing on a fallen log above Bishop when he pulled the trigger, the bullet striking the top of Bishop's head and killing him instantly. Carlisle then dumped his friend's body in the same hole that had contained the opium.
That was Carlisle's story and he was sticking to it, transparently implausible as it was.
Though apprehended with Bishop's gun, Carlisle said the actual murder weapon was a .38 he'd rented from a man named Horace Weller, Jr., and which he had returned to Weller the next day.
Carlisle said that two days after the murder he borrowed a shovel from Camp 5 and put more dirt over Bishop's corpse, then overlaid the makeshift grave with several logs, disguising it as best he could.
Pressed for details about the mysterious third man and the provenance of the opium, Carlisle, his creative imagination apparently exhausted, remained silent, but did admit that his real name was “Jack Johnson,” and for the past year he'd drifted in and out of the Fort Bragg area, and from job to job.
The next day, law enforcement transported Carlisle-Johnson to the Ten Mile woods to retrieve Bishop's body. Deputy Reise noted that the suspect exhibited no signs of distress or remorse, laughing and joking on the ride from Ukiah to Bishop's lonely tomb.
Carlisle-Johnson guided the lawmen to a ravine near the south fork of Ten Mile River, and pointed to the impromptu gravesite. A powerful rainstorm had left a tangle of downed tree limbs and knee deep mud which made the extraction of what remained of the unfortunate Bishop very difficult. The deputies took turns digging and clearing debris as the suspect looked on as if was a mere spectator at an archeological dig.
Finally, three hours into the ordeal, Carlisle-Johnson remarked to Deputy Reise, “Ward, you have about struck pay dirt.” It was a remarkably carefree attitude from someone staring down both barrels of a first-degree murder charge.
The corpse was dug out face down from the wet soil and rolled over. When Carlisle-Johnson saw Bishop's dead eyes and eroding features, he was suddenly not the disinterested bystander and asked to be taken away.
Back in Ukiah, Carlisle-Johnson was charged with first degree murder. Local newspapers reported that the suspect was of “unusually handsome appearance,” being 33 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighing 180 pounds.” In the eyes of law enforcement, however, his physical assets were “cunningly employed to the most diabolical of ends.”
Carlisle-Johnson did not take the stand to defend himself, as his attorneys believed that his general demeanor in addition to his oftentimes conflicting testimony presented more of a liability than a potential benefit. His child-like defense remained as he first described it: an opium deal gone awry, complicated by a mysterious third man whom the killer refused to name or even describe, culminating in a bullet fired in self-defense from a rented .38 after the soon-to-be-dead man had fired the first shot.
Sheriff Byrnes and Deputy Reise believed that neither the opium nor the nefarious third party ever existed, and that a keg of bootleg jackass might have once been buried in the hole.
The jury took little time in finding Johnson-Carlisle guilty, but was split 6-6 on whether he should be hanged or given life in prison.
Ukiah Judge Preston duly sentenced Carlisle-Johnson to spend the rest of his days in San Quentin Prison, the judge stating that Carlisle-Johnson was lucky indeed to have avoided the gallows. According to trial witnesses, the murderer seemed genuinely surprised that he'd been convicted, and one witness speculated that Carlisle-Johnson was a true psychopath.
And he still had some psycho left.
Two years later, the man known as both Jack Carlisle and Jack Johnson, still infamous in the logging camps from Albion to Westport, died of severe burns received from a raging fire at the Folsom Prison oil storage house. While in the Folsom intensive care unit, Carlisle-Johnson admitted to Warden Smith that he started the blaze in hopes of using its smoke to camouflage his escape. He exonerated two fellow inmates who were being held in solitary confinement as accomplices to his arson.
Carlisle-Johnson had been sent to Folsom after starting three separate fires in the San Quentin jute mill. Prison officials at the notorious Marin lock-up facility diagnosed the problem inmate as a pyromaniac, but his guards and fellow prisoners believed that the ever-scheming lifer was hoping the jute fires would form literal smokescreens to help him escape the virtually inescapable prison on San Francisco Bay. Ironically, it was his arson that finally liberated the still young logger from the prison and this mortal coil.