Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Boone Helm, killer and cannibal

Born in Kentucky in 1828 Boone Helm was the second youngest of five brothers who all died violently. It is well known that at least two of the brothers where homidical and perhaps all of them required quick separation from life as a means of protecting the rest of society. However it is doubtful that any of them where as dangerous to human kind as was Boone.
            His first victim was supposedly a friend, Littlebury Shoot who couldn’t decide fast enough, in Helm’s estimation at least, when they should leave Jefferson City Wyoming for the gold fields of California. Boone ended the discussion by plunging a knife into Shoot’s heart. The year was 1852.
            He was captured and returned to Missouri where he demonstrated his fine acting ability and convinced authorities that he was insane. Once he had established a back-ground as a model inmate he escaped and headed once again for California, killing several people in his travels. Familiarity breeds contempt it is said and such was demonstrated when Boone was careless enough to allow a witness to view him shoot a man in the back. Now he was wanted for murder in California.
            Avoiding a California lynching Helm appeared in The Dalles, Oregon where he attached himself to a group of gambling prospectors. There was gold just to the north in the British Colony of British Columbia but they also had a police force up there. The group decided to go east through the Wasatch Mountain Range to the gold strike at Camp Floyd, Utah.
            It was a poor decision for winter was closing in. In 1860 Helm made it to Salt Lake City where he had money to spend. When he left Oregon he had been broke. A great deal of evidence suggests that he survived the mountains and passes by consuming parts of at least one of those in the party that left Oregon; perhaps the very one who also supplied the money.
            After that it was a horse stealing operation where he found it more convenient to kill the two men guarding those horses. Later, in Lodi, Utah a soldier assigned to the US Quartermaster Corp recognized him in a crowded saloon. Helm solved that problem with a bullet through the soldier’s head.
            Back to California, where there were suspicions and then to Washington Territory where he had an argument with Dutch Fred a well known and popular gambler. Later, Helm won the argument by shooting Dutch in the back as he played poker.
            Dutch, as mentioned, was popular. Helm was quick and only escaped Dutch’s friends by going north across the 49th parallel into the British Colony.
            In July, 1862 three bodies floated down the Quesnel (Kwe-nell) River. They where identified as three miners well known to fellow miners in the Williams Creek area. They where known to have $32,000 in gold. After several witness statements and police work by BC Colonial officers it was shown that Boone Helm was the culprit. A posse was formed but Helm had disappeared.
            Barely off the ship and in Victoria on the Vancouver Island Colony Helm was arrested October, 16, 1862 for stealing apples and refusing to pay for drinks in several saloons.
            He tried his acting abilities again. He told Judge Pemberton that he was “a stranger in a strange land” and that “if it wasn’t for the prison cell I occupied last night I would have had to walk the streets of this fair city as I am wholly alone, penniless and afraid, having neither chick nor child, kith or kin.”
            Pemberton said later that it was an excellent presentation. However, Helm had been bragging the night before in his prison cell of how dangerous he was and how he had killed a man in Washington country. He sentenced Helm to a month in jail hoping they could get word to US authorities and have a reception committee waiting for Helm when he stepped out of Victoria’s Square Bastion stockade.
            Perhaps the letter was lost. Perhaps the person who received the letter had never heard of Dutch Fred. Perhaps they had more pressing business that month. Whatever the reason, there was no response from the US and at the end of the thirty day sentence Helm was released.
            Three days after his release, Victoria Police Chief Horace Smith received a message from the Deputy US Marshall in Florence. However, Helm was already well across Georgia Straight and somewhere up the Fraser River in the Colony of BC.
            With Victoria Police, Vancouver Island Colonial Police, British Columbia Colonial Police and US Marshalls all looking for Helm, his travel plans where bound to change.
            Boone Helm was captured near Fort Yale on the Fraser River.
            Was he headed back up country to dig up the gold from the triple murder the year before? The amount missing would be the equivalent of more than a million dollars in early twenty first century. It was in gold, a product readily identifiable as to area. Two months after the murders when he appeared in Victoria Helm was broke.
            Or did one of the so-called witnesses have the gold?
            There is no record of anyone have that kind of money or of a sudden unexplained change in fortunes.
            Since the murder of Dutch Fred preceded the others known at the time and US authorities where already on-site, Helm was extradited to Washington Territory. However, older brother “Old Tex” Helm bribed the main prosecution witness and the case fell apart. Once again Boon Helm walked and was no where to be found when Colonial authorities suggested he could now be tried for the triple murders on the Quesnel River.
            However, does anyone remember the story of Virginia City, Montana 1864? Miners where disappearing there in unknown numbers, along with their gold, until, under the strictest secrecy, a vigilante committee was formed. Henry Plummer and his band, the “Innocents” where, in most cases, caught and hung. On the morning of January 14th, 1864 more than 5000 residents watched as Jack Gallagher, Clubfoot Lane, Frank Parrish, Hayer Lyons and, yes, Boone Helm were hanged.

1 comment:

  1. Howdy, Very nice work. I am finishing Liver Eating Johnston's bio... I posted a review on Crow Killer by Bunker and Thorp which I would view as a tall tales book. The frozen leg episode attributed to Johnston was actually Boone Helm. (I got a call from one of the relatives who agreed that Boone and his brothers were more than rowdy and a little crazed.)
    Dorman Nelson, Biographer