Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

The Watch Inspector Murder

I find myself intrigued by old law cases. The law interests me, but it's often the factual settings of the cases which tell me stories drawn from life. Sometimes they're so human.

Take the meeting of Mr. Rushing and Mr. Hodges at the Commercial Hotel in Gurdon, Arkansas on September 21, 1929. Both men were local jewelers. Both came in came in at 10 o'clock p.m.to get a bite to eat. One man left with a gunshot wound, and promptly died.



Mr. Rushing was a small man, who weighed no more than 117 lbs. He carried his gun with him at all times, as a jeweler in that time (as in this time) faced a constant fear of being accosted and robbed.

Mr. Rushing held a position as the watch inspector for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In the case of Rushing v. State, 182 Ark. 101, 29 S.W.2d 1079 (1930), the court describes how a controversy had arisen. Many of the railway workers contended that they would prefer for Mr. Hodges to assume the post of watch inspector. The testimony indicated that Mr. Hodges sold his watches for a lesser price than did Mr.Rushing.

In some cases, the great mystery is "whodunit". In the case against Mr. Rushing, the question was only why the killing was done. Nobody doubted that Mr. Rushing shot Mr. Hodges with a pistol in the dining room of the Commercial Hotel. This, by the way, was the same Commercial Hotel used a few years previously by the fellow who committed arson on the Wright movie theater next door (apparently a retaliation by Mr. Powell, a movie theater owner in his own right, for the recent use of dynamite to incapacitate his own theater), as recounted in the case of Powell v. State.

The case has little legal interest. The court largely recites the testimony of the people present in the cafe, and of people in the streets, where David Hodges fled with his mortal wound. Mr. Hodges made his dying declaration to many people he passed on the street, including his father, to the effect that he had been killed because he could sell a cheaper watch than Mr. Rushing. Various prosecution witnesses testified that Mr. Rushing had stated that Mr. Hodges ought to be killed. Defense witnesses testified that Mr. Hodges, in turn, had told friends that Mr. Rushing should be killed, if that was what it took to get Mr. Rushing's position as watch inspector. For his part, Mr. Rushing and one of his witnesses testified that Mr. Hodges, a very large man, came after him, chair in hand, aiming to do him great violence. His plea was self-defense.

The jury determined that Mr. Rushing was guilty of the serious but less severely punished crime of second degree murder, and affixed the sentence at fifteen years.The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, because the evidence supported this verdict. The only real legal point was whether it was error to permit the jury to hear about a railroad meeting in which the vote was had to replace Mr. Rushing with Mr. Hodges as watch inspector. The court held that although the testimony did not show Mr. Rushing knew of this vote, and thus could not be "linked up" to Mr. Rushing, an instruction to the jury to ignore the testimony sufficed.

I think of those two men, apparently bitter enemies because they both sold watches in a very small town. I read over what Mr. Hodges shouted to one witness, as he ran from the cafe of the Commercial Hotel "Boys, you will never see me alive again. I believe I am going to die". I think of the way things get out of hand, and lead to the most regrettable events.

I wonder whether Mr. Rushing completed his time, and what he did when the sentence was over. I also think of Mr. Hodges' father, seeing his son lying near death from a gunshot wound. I wonder what the position of watch inspector for the Missouri Pacific Railroad actually paid, and whether the duties were strenuous.

I think I like cases like these because they are little vignettes I cannot quite touch with my mind, but which tell me a story I somehow understand anyway.
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