Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Hartzell-Bascom Murder Trial

Actual Photograph taken during the Hartzell-Bascom Murder Trial, with Judge Pollock presiding...
I came across the photograph above when I reviewed the Barry Collection from the SHSND recently. I was intrigued because it was labeled a scene from the "Hartzell-Bascom murder trial in Pembina Court"...I couldn't find anything out about it at first. Then I ran across a fascinating mention of Hartzell when researching at the North Dakota Supreme Court website. Ultimately, it was that source that tracked down the following mentions of the trial in a paper of that time. Please note that these are transcribed from scans of the original newspaper articles, and some words were truncated so I made my best guess as to the original word, and when that wasn't possible, I added dashes to indicate 'unknown'...

[Bismarck Daily Tribune August 22, 1904]
Application will be made to Chief Newton C. Young of the supreme court for an order admitting L.S. Hertzell(sic) and E.T. Bascom to bail. The two men are attorneys located at N and are accused of murder in in the third degree for the killing of Byron Stoddard a neighbor, on July 7th.

Judge Kneeshaw of the district court denied a motion made to admit the two men to bail, and they have been in custody in the county jail at Langdon ever since the afternoon of the shooting.

Application to the supreme court for an order of on bail will be on the ground that Stoddard had frequently threatened to kill both of the accused men on sight, that he had made these threats openly and that they had been communicated to both Hertzell and Bascom. These points are set forth in the application in the testimony of Mrs. Cora Stewart and Mrs. Bascom, who feared the threats made by the man who was killed on July 7th.

While Stoddard was very unpopular at Langdon, where he had lived less than two years, there is a strong feeling against the young men. Hertzell shot and killed Stoddard during a dispute over a certain fence and road and Bascom was with him at the time.
[Bismarck Daily Tribune April 27, 1905]
Judge Fisk and States Attorney Price have refused to sign the petition of S. L. Hartzell, convicted of the murder of Byron Stoddard at Langdon and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. Petition is being circulated by E. T. Bascom, business partner of Hartzell, and the grounds stated are that Hartzell has been sufficiently punished for his crime. It would seem to the lay observer that five years imprisonment is a light sentence for homicide where the particulars were such that any conviction at all was had. Hartzell has been in the penitentiary only a few months, and if guilty at all the statement that he had been sufficiently punished seems hardly well-founded. The fact that the trial judge and prosecuting attorney had refused to sign the petition would indicate that the application is not such a one as the board of pardons is likely to look upon with favor.
[Bismarck Daily Tribune Monday July 11, 1904 – Front Page]
Murder Reported From Langdon Where One Farmer Shoots and Another Farmer Dies
Byron Stoddard aged 26 years, a --ing a mile from Langdon, North Dakota and instantly killed by S.L. Hartzell, an attorney. Mrs. Stoddard and their daughter witnessed the killing from their buggy nearby. Mr. Bascom, the business partner of Hartzell, was also a witness of the shooting.

Stoddard and the firm of Hartzell & Bascom owned adjoining farms, a fence dividing the properties. There was some trouble over a roadway, making it necessary to cross some of the ---d in leaving the Stoddard Saturday afternoon Mr. Stoddard accompanied by his wife and they drove toward Langdon and --o crossed the land owned by -- of lawyers. Mr. Stoddard had a pair of plyers with him and --ved some wires in order to obtain crossing. After driving through the opening he got out of the buggy and repaired the fence, and --- engaged the lawyers drove --utombile. There were some --ssed; between Hartzell and Stoddard, and raising a shotgun to his shoulder Hartzell fired at Stoddard --ge of gunshot took effect. Stoddard died almost instantly. To a suggestion that he be taken to a hospital he said, "Take me home..." which were the last words he spoke. Hartzell claims that Stoddard pointed at him and that he fired the gun in self defense. Mrs. Stoddard denies this and says her husband had no revolver with him, that it was lying in the bottom of --. It was found that two bullets had penetrated Stoddard’s --en had had considerable -- is claimed, and at one time Hartzell is said to have induced Mrs. Stoddard to agree to start an action for divorce against her husband but it is claimed that the action was not started.

Hartzell was given a preliminary hearing and was held to the district court on the charge of murder in the first degree. Stoddard and Hartzell both moved to Langdon about two years ago from Blue Earth county, Minnesota.
[Bismarck Daily Tribune Monday, November 6th 1905]
Seeks a Pardon – Application has been filed with the board of pardons for the pardon of Seth Leslie Hartzell, who was convicted of manslaughter in the Pembina county district court January 25 last and sentenced by Judge Fisk of Grand Forks to five years in the penitentiary. The application will be considered at a meeting of the board of pardons to be held at Bismarck on December 2. Hartzell, a member of the law firm of Hartzell & Bascom at Langdon, shot and killed Byron Stoddard, a farmer living near Langdon in July of last year.
[Bismarck Daily Tribune December 5th 1907]
Young Lawyer Who Took the
Law Into His Own Hands
Sympathy For Aged Father
Insufficient To Overcome
Duty to Society

The State Board of Pardons has again denied the application of Seth L. Hartzell for a pardon.

Hartzell is a young lawyer, formerly a student at the state law school at Grand Forks and a graduate of that institution. He took a homestead in Cavalier county and after some difficulties with Byron Stoddard, a neighboring homesteader, shot and killed Stoddard, while the latter was on the way to town with his wife.

The trouble that led to the shooting was due to the breaking down of part of a fence by Stoddard. It was claimed for Hartzell that Stoddard was a bad man and that the shooting was done in self-defense. Nevertheless, Hartzell was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in the Penitentiary.

Hartzell’s father has been a persistent applicant for his son’s pardon. He is an aged man with much love for his son and has been a pathetic figure at sessions of the state board for several years. The board has usually taken the position that no facts had been presented to justify them in overturning The action of the jury that tried Hartzell and fixed the degree of his guilt.

Regarding ND vs Seth Leslie Hartzell and Edward T. Bascom (initially charged with first degree murder of Byron U. Stoddard, with a shotgun), trial was in Pembina because defendants petitioned for change of venue, feeling certain individuals with undue influence would cause prejudice and make a fair trail impossible in the county they were in. Bascom claimed, in a Petition to be Discharged from Custody, that any action against Stoddard was self-defense, that he was in the act of drawing a loaded revolver.

Judge Charles Fisk was the judge in the Hartzell-only trial (Hartzell and Bascom were tried separately...) Jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter in 3rd degree (five year sentence...)

Judge Charles Pollock was the judge in the Bascom-only trial; Bascom was found not guilty on February 21, 1905...

Hartzell Trial, Judge Fisk presiding.
[Click to see full-size, for more detail]
Photo Courtesy:  Jim Benjaminson
Some additional information about the trial, shared by Jim Benjaminson:

Readers of Pembina County Historical Society's "Heritage '76" history book may recall a photo showing the court room in the old courthouse when it was still located in Pembina.  That photo showed a shackled man sitting before a judge and jury and was identified only as a murder case, with no names connected to the photo.  A closer comparison to this photo is in order, also taken at the old court house in Pembina in the same time period but with different jurors and court officers.

Daniel Flanagan was from Crystal and traveled to Pembina to serve on the jury (he's in the front row, second from the right) on the Hartzell murder trail in January of 1905. The Crystal Call newspaper said he had stayed at Pembina for two weeks until the trial was completed.

S.H. Hartzell was an attorney from Langdon who had shot and killed a neighbor, Byron Stoddard, over a trespassing dispute in July of 1904. Hartzell and his law partner, E. T. Bascom (some spelled the name Bascombe), owned property about one mile west of Langdon. The previous fall a threshing engine had broken through a bridge on the property line south of the farm owned by Hartzell and Bascom. The bridge was not going to be rebuilt which rendered the roadway impassible. The day of the murder, Hartzell and Bascombe were at the sight when Stoddard showed up, taking his wife and daughter in a buggy to Langdon for the circus. According to the newspaper story, Stoddard had a wire cutter and was proceeding to cut the fence when Hartzell forbade him to proceed. When Stoddard persisted, Hartzell produced a shotgun and gunned him down.

Both Hartzell and Bascombe were charged with murder in the first degree and jailed on July 7, 1904 where they remained until trial, being refused bail by Judge Kneeshaw. Appealing Kneeshaw's refusal of bail to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the court ruled for the judge. A change of venue moved the trial from Langdon to Pembina, Judge Fisk of Grand Forks being assigned to hear the case.

Hartzell was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the state pen, the charge reduced to manslaughter (although he was released early). Bascombe, in a second trial held in February 1905, was acquitted as he had been nothing more than a witness to the entire affair.