Monday, November 19, 2012

Murder in the Superstitions

November 12, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This article is about two very similar murders in the Superstition Mountains almost one hundred years apart.

Far removed from the urban scene near the southeastern boundary of the Superstition Wilderness Area lies the historic J.F. Ranch. John J. Fraser established this line ranch around 1891 and George Martin operates the ranch today. Martin is from a long line of  cowmen who have run cattle in these mountains since the turn of the century.

In 1892 the ranch was the property of pioneer cattleman “Jack” J.J. Fraser. It was here on May 30, 1892 that Charley Dobie was brutally murdered by Apache renegades according to some sources.

Two weeks prior to his murder, Charley Dobie rode out of Tempe in the company of his uncle, F. M. Neighbors. Their plan was to help  Jack Fraser gather cattle in the Superstition Mountains. Two weeks later Fraser and  neighbors found Charley Dobie dead at the J.F. Ranch. Many people in the area thought it was the work of the Apache Kid, a notorious renegade of the era.

Dobie’s remains were removed and interred at Silver King. A few years ago you could still find young Charley Dobie’s tombstone in the Silver King Cemetery.

Here at this same idyllic setting, among towering Cottonwood trees, corrals, an old windmill and a line cabin, history repeated itself some eighty-six years later. Ironic as it may seem, homicide again made a visit to the J.F. Ranch. This time a young Mexican vaquero named Manuel Valdez died at the hands of unknown assassins.

They laid waiting in ambush, a short distance from the ranch house, and shot him several times without provocation. After their evil deed, his killers buried his body in Fraser Canyon near a large Cottonwood tree. If it were not for his small dog “Prieta” his body would probably still be there. Manuel’s young black dog lay at the foot of his hastily dug grave until an outfitter using the old ranch discovered the site.

The night before his untimely death, Manuel talked of the mysterious Superstition Mountains, their legends and lore. He was also fascinated with the tales of hidden gold. He thought maybe someday he too would search for the hidden gold of the Jesuits. Even in far away Mexico the legends of “Sierra de Espuma” still lingers.

The merciless killing of Manuel Valdez so parallels the death of Charley Dobie one might easily conclude that the ghosts of  Dobie’s killer or killers returned to kill again at the J.F. Ranch. Or did someone read the  following article from the Arizona Daily Gazette, June 5, 1892.

“It is still a mystery, the Florence Tribune, in speaking of the Dobie murder, had this to say: The verdict arrived by the coroner’s jury was that Charlie Dobie was killed by Apache Indians; that Indians had been seen in the  neighborhood; that the manner of killing looked like Indian work; that the way in which the house was ransacked and pillaged  indicated Indians.

“It was found that the boy’s skull was crushed, his face badly bruised, and his shoulder broken. He was shot through the left side apparently with a .45 caliber Winchester, but the wound was not one that would have proved fatal.

“The body as somewhat decomposed by this time, but was carried by the men on foot over the trail, and taken to Silver King for  interment.

“Jack Fraser’s horse had been stolen with saddle and bridle. The tracks were very distinct and were followed for about three miles. The trail was taken up and followed after the conclusion of the inquest.

“Little Charley was generally liked and is spoken well of by all who knew him. The murder was one of the most cowardly brutal acts that have taken place in recent years.

“Opinions of those who know the country vary as to who the assassins could be. The majority appeared to credit the Indians with the death. Others were inclined to the believe it was the “Kid”, who not to long ago committed some depredations perhaps fifty miles from the scene of this affair. A few seem to think that John M. See, the wife murder, committed the crime in order to conceal his identity, after robbing the house.

“Every effort will be made to run down the person responsible for the brutal deed, for the community is very much aroused over the matter.”

There are several similarities between the Dobie and Valdez murders, aside from the fact that they occurred some eighty-six years apart. Each incident involved the theft of a horse, in each case the victim was unarmed, both men were young and their murders were unprovoked. The ranch house was ransacked in both cases. The list goes on and in both cases historical similarities continue to arise.

Let’s analyze some of the facts concerning the Valdez case murder. Valdez was employed by Billy Martin Jr. to repair fence and take care of the J. F. Ranch. Manuel Valdez had only been working at the ranch for nine or  ten days at the time of his death. His killers had camped near the ranch the night before  to study the habits of their soon-to-be victim.

On Friday, April 21, 1978 the plans of the killers were interrupted by the arrival of a small group of overnight campers. The next morning after the departure of the group Valdez was ambushed as he stepped out onto the front porch of the ranch house. Valdez’s killers opened fire with high-powered rifles a short distance from the ranch house killing him instantly. Witnesses had heard rifle shots on Saturday, morning, April 22, 1978. These witnesses had spent Friday night with Valdez at the ranch. They heard the shots as they were closing the gate about ¾ mile from the ranch house.

After firing the fatal shots the killers carried the victim’s body to a big sand wash (Fraser Canyon) and partially buried it thinking they were hiding their bizarre crime. They may have been successful had it not been for the loyalty of Manuel’s small black dog, Prieta. Prieta led veteran mountain guide, Billy Clark Crader, to Manuel’s gravesite late Thursday, April 27, 1978. Crader notified the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office immediately.

Billy Martin Jr. had searched for Valdez the previous week without success. Billy did not suspect foul play because many times fence workers will move their camps to the site of their work. Martin reported a horse stolen, pack saddle and food stolen from the ranch. The killers had hiked into the country. There was no evidence they drove into the area.

The killers were eventually found because of the identification provided by Al Hasty who was one of the campers who had spent a night at the ranch prior to the murder of Valdez. He had taken a hike early Friday evening and came across the two men’s camp. Al had taken a mental description of both men because he thought it was strange that they were out here with no means of transportation.

Two men named Manning and Wallace were eventually arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of Manuel Valdez, ending one of Arizona biggest manhunts. Wallace had worked for one of the local stables and knew the mountains well.