Unsolved Arizona, A Puzzling History of Murder, Mayhem, & Mystery, Jane Eppinga, History Press, $21.99. Paper, Photos, Bibliography, Index.
This book will entertain history-mystery buffs with thirteen true stories about unsolved, odd, and fascinating episodes pertaining to Arizona.
Readers will find the Glen and Bessie Hyde adventure ending in tragedy as the couple honeymooned for twenty-six days on the Colorado River rapids. Their bodies were never found.
A chapter titled “Lust for the Dutchman’s Gold” takes the reader to Arizona’s Superstition Mountains where legends and scary stories abound. Spaniards, Apaches, Mexican miners, and American adventurers found, lost, hid, and died over golden treasure. Secret maps, wandering gold-seekers, lies and wild tales still haunt these mountains where nobody has ever found the gold, but scattered throughout the hills are decapitated skeletons. Lost treasure in the Superstitions has led more than one man to his death.
Here too you will find a chapter about the Wham paymaster robbery, a $28,345.10 loss of government funds. It happened in May of 1889 at Cedar Spring, Arizona. The military payroll consisting of $5.00, $10.00, and $20.00 gold pieces was stolen by a band of robbers as the payroll, carried in a wagon under escort, was ambushed and robbed. The Wham robbery was named after Major Joseph Washington Wham whose personal history included previous robberies, thus he became one of the suspects. In the end a variety of characters were arrested tried, and found not guilty. Local ranchers made jokes, soldiers escorting the payroll were told to keep quiet, Wham himself was never held responsible, and after all the political hyperbole, court room haggling and wild newspaper accounts, the money has never been recovered.
A chapter about the missing evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson tells of an eccentric who led authorities on a wild chase during which she disappeared for five weeks. Other chapters tell of a missing baby, a couple who vanished in the desert near Yuma, the mysterious disappearance of a Willcox rancher’s wife, and the kidnapping of a six-year-old girl, June Robles held in a cage in the desert outside Tucson. One chapter dwells on the details of the frustrating saga concerning the disappearance of a National Park Service ranger, Paul Fugate. In January 1980 Fugate walked away from his office in the Chiricahua National Monument in southern Cochise County, Arizona, and was never seen again. The author takes readers on a trip this time, following Fugate’s activities for several days leading up to his disappearance. Much of the information comes directly from Fugate’s wife.
The book is a mix of famous old-time mysteries and more recent crime investigations. They are all about Arizona, and remind us of the harsh desert conditions people are faced with then and now. Vast stretches of high desert offer scant vegetation, prickly cactus, little water and merciless heat. Desert dwellers including rattlesnakes and coyotes, wolves and mountain lions sometimes figure into the conditions people face when finding themselves lost, alone, or abandoned.
The author Jane Eppinga has written a large number of books targeting Arizona subjects, with special interest in the macabre. These include Arizona Twilight Tales: Good Ghosts: Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains. She is a member of Arizona Professional Writers, and National Federation of Press Women.
Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel Widow’s Peak published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700, www.silklabelbooks.com