John Mansker's Body, as Pictured in the Newspaper
The headline screams in four-alarm type across all seven columns of the front page of the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review newspaper for June 9, 1911:
Around 4:30 in the afternoon of June 8, William Byrd, armed with a .30-30 Winchester rifle, stepped off a streetcar in the little village of Dishman, just east of Spokane, and shot two men who were constructing a building next to the tracks.
John B. Mansker died instantly with two bullets in his heart and one through the right side of his body; George H. Whipple was shot in the mouth and neck and died later that night at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane.
When the cry went up that Byrd had killed the two men, a group of men gathered and began to give chase. A short distance away, Byrd fired again and wounded Justice of the Peace G. W. Meisner, who later also died of his wounds.
Nineteen-eleven was the heyday of yellow journalism and the paper pulled out all the stops in sensationalizing the crime and the subsequent pursuit of Byrd. Over the next four days the paper devoted no less than 190 column inches of space (by actual measurement) to the crime and to the flight and capture of what the paper, in an excess of hyperbole, referred to as "one of the most cold-blooded murderers in the history of the northwest".
Ordinary daily newspapers of the time routinely handled stories in a way which we now associate only with the more unsavory supermarket tabloids. The reporting was complete with diagrams and pictures of the murder site and a photograph of John Mansker's body (see above). The paper also breathlessly reported that the "most gruesome part of the tragic scene...was the effort that had to be made to keep a large black dog from the body of the dead man".
Motive for the Whipple shooting was unclear, although jealousy over Mrs. Whipple was mentioned, and Whipple himself had said "family troubles" just before he died. John, who was identified as a contractor, had fired Byrd from a carpentry job a few days earlier and this was given as the probable motivation for his murder.
On the first day of the story, John was identified as a "John Manski, 32, unmarried, of Dishman" and was listed as a carpenter; in following stories, however, his name was reported correctly. There was no obituary in the paper for John, but on the third day, in the story of the Meisner and Whipple funerals, the paper reported: "A telegram was received...by the Gillman Undertaking Company from Margaret Mansker of Warner, Okla., a relative of John Mansker, the first man to be killed by Byrd. It read: 'Bury John, send description and if it is the man send us the bill.'"
This telegram was from the former Margaret Allen, the wife of John S. Mansker, mother of murder victim John B. Mansker, and my great-grandmother.
John Mansker is buried in an unmarked grave, Lot 31-3-25, in Greenwood Cemetery. Spokane.
What happened to William Byrd?
After eluding the sheriff's posse for several days in the mountains southeast of Spokane, William Byrd finally gave himself up on June 12. When asked why he had done it, he replied that "it was a long story but you would have done the same thing".
He stated that Mansker and Whipple had threatened to kill him on sight, so he went out to fight it out with them. When they refused to fight he called them cowards and shot them.
Byrd also hinted at a love triangle involving himself and the Whipples, but claimed that he had not intended to kill Whipple. "I was shooting at Mansker," he said, and Whipple stepped in the way. "You know, Mansker threw a hammer at me. He didn't hit me, and then I let him have three of these soft-nosed bullets."
On July 24, Byrd collapsed in his cell with heart failure, but recovered sufficiently to stand trial in the fall. On October 11, 1911, the William Byrd trial ended. After six hours of deliberation, he was found guilty of murder in the second degree for the killing of John Mansker. He had been charged with first-degree murder; the jury disagreed, but not before nine of the twelve initially voted for a finding of murder in the first.
"What saved Byrd," jury foreman A. C. Long said after the trial, "was the testimony that he loaded his gun after he went into the building where Mansker and Whipple were at work. Had he gone there intending to commit murder, he would have his cartridges ready to shoot on sight."
Byrd was never tried for the killing of Whipple and Meisner. He was sentenced to a term of 10 years to life at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla, Washington.
The Washington State Department of Corrections reported that William Byrd, a carpenter, was 38 when he entered prison on Nov 4, 1911; he was paroled on Jan 19, 1927.
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, June 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14, July 6 and 24, October 22, and November 4, 1911.