Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for April 13, 2011
Geiger Counter Murder - cold case or hot case?
The Kane County murder got national attention in 1954. The Geiger Counter Murder was a featured article in Time and Crime magazines in May of 1954, as well as in numerous other publications throughout the country.
Commercial grade uranium had been discovered 10 miles east of town – uranium fever mounted! Over 1200 mining claims were filed on land near the area.
One Leroy Wilson, an excommunicated Mormon (for defending polygamy, and being the leader of a strange band of men and women), was found dead. Six .45 caliber slugs had been shot into Wilson’s head and back. He had been ‘dry-gulched,’ a reference to men shot in the pursuit of the latest important metal.
Claim jumper Wilson had history to exemplify that he was a force to be reckoned with. With his large six-foot-three height and 240-pound body, he was known for being loud-voiced and belligerent. Prior to his death, he had been considered as the absolute authority over a Bull Valley settlement in the mountains near Veyo, west of Kanab.
Upon learning of a uranium strike, he and some followers moved to Kanab hotels to investigate. Wilson filed claims. Most other prospectors assumed that he’d develop or sell his property. But Wilson went after more claims, since he was educated and had good knowledge of mining laws. He bluffed some prospectors out of their claims, or simply jumped others.
Enter Tom Holland, a jovial farmer from Beryl, who came in a house trailer with a loosely-arranged agreement to work Wilson’s claims. The partners immediately had issues with each other...many of them.
But then a stranger appeared at the Kane County Recorder’s office. In one hand he held a chunk of ore, in the other hand a Geiger Counter...
The following personal account concerning the above murder was delivered to the Southern Utah News by Larry Zicker, senior scientist/engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy in Idaho.
My name is Larry Zirker, and I once lived in Kanab, Utah. My parents bought a motel in Kanab in 1953 and I started the first grade, taught by Mrs. Peterson up on the hill, and started second grade in the new school that was built. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Fawn Robinson, and Mrs. Swapp was my third grade teacher. We moved to Page, AZ between my seventh and eighth grades.
I drove through Kanab recently and noticed much of the motel building and the apartments in the back are still there, but the barns in the back and trees have long been removed. The motel was located just west of the current Treasure Trails Motel. The building currently looks unoccupied. When I lived there, we had two nice patches of grass in the front. I can remember it was about 1957 and Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheads (Tonto and the Long Ranger) wrestled on my front grass two times during one summer. There used to be a restaurant next to the motel, and the excited customers were standing up and looking out the windows at these two early TV stars.
In 1954, great intrigue incurred in Kanab, Utah with the uranium prospectors, claim-jumpers and the Geiger Counter Murder. Money was to be made and had been made with uranium. The Geiger Counter Murder occurred in Kane County in 1954, and still is an unsolved murder. My father has been dead for years, and I thought that the Kane County Sheriff would like to have an unsolved murder taken off of the county records.
This story is a compilation of data that I got from my parents and sisters over the years. A few years ago I was on an airline flight from Salt Lake City, Utah to Tucson, Arizona, when the plane flew over Kane County. I could look down onto the Old Town of Paria and to where U.S. Highway 89 cuts through the Cockscomb Ridge. At that time I thought I should tell the story.
From the plane I could see the rough road and uranium discovery site that had to be blasted out that was just north of the cut and on the west side. It is quite visible by car as you drive the highway, but most in the county don’t remember how or why the road was built...it was uranium.
My dad had a gunnysack of the ore from that site in our back shed, and I use to shine a black light on the rock at night and see the uranium, plus we had a Geiger Counter that I used to turn on and listen to the clicking sound of the electronics.
There was a man who lived in our motel named Tom Holland, who was from Beryl, Utah. He was a prospector looking for uranium. Tom got my father all spun-up about staking claims, and taught him how to put in the corner posts with the discovery documents for 20-acre parcels of land. Tom became a friend of the family and was often to dinner with us. As a young child (seven-years old), I can remember going out with my dad and dragging the long steel tape measure across the sagebrush flats. We staked uranium claims in the valley east of the Cockscomb Ridge cut and north of Highway 89 about 40 miles east of Kanab.
Another man, Leroy Albert Wilson, also lived in one of the back apartments of the motel with two of his men. One day my dad discovered that Wilson claimed jumped some of my father’s and Tom Holland’s claims. A claim jumper is someone who goes into the county recorder and gets his back-dated mineral claim documents recorded. My dad told me how Wilson would back-date or “jump” the claims. What he did was go to the county recorder with a little pay-off money, and back-dated papers. My dad and Tom found out about it when they noticed different discovery documents and corner posts on the land they had filed on earlier.
When my dad found out about Wilson jumping his claim and not being one to back down from anyone, he went out to the back apartment and told Wilson to get out of the apartment. Wilson was a bully and he had his men jump my dad and each grabbed an arm as Wilson came over to punch out my dad. My dad was short, but was stocky, and as a construction worker he was very strong. Just before Wilson could hit him dad broke free with his right arm and struck Wilson in the middle of his face, and knocked him down so hard that he stumbled back until he hit the wall, slumped down and passed out. Then dad told the other two guys to step forward if they wanted some of him. Needless to say, like most bullies, they packed up and moved out that night.
Late in his life, my dad told me how Holland then set up Wilson. Holland went to the county recorder and told him where he had discovered a high-grade ore out-cropping in a different part of the county. What he did was to take a piece of high-grade pitch blend (uranium) ore from Wyoming and showed it to the county recorder. He took a Geiger Counter and when the dials pegged, it made a great impression on the recorder. Then the recorder called Wilson as predicted and the next day or so Wilson went out to the site to jump it. But Wilson didn’t know that Holland was there waiting for him and shot him six times with a model 1911 45 caliber Army service pistol as he walked around him.
He then went back to the motel and arrived before my sisters came home from school at 3:30 p.m. Tom’s motel room was just down the hall from our kitchen and living room. Later that day he gave the pistol to my dad because dad had always admired and wanted it. It was a World War II service pistol. Well, when they found Wilson, the coroner had determined he was shot later in the afternoon. But Holland was at our home in the mid-afternoon, and my sisters were to eventually testify in court that he was there when they came home from school. My dad had cause to kill Wilson because he had a fight with him, and Wilson had jumped his claim.
When my dad found out about the murder, he hid the pistol in a one-gallon paint can that he had in his workshop. Dad had a whole wall in his workshop with dozens of paint cans.
In the murder lawsuit against Holland by the county, the county sheriff was no match for the old country lawyer Holland had hired. The lawyer, Mr. Pickett from Prescott, Arizona, had some 45-caliber casings, just like the ones the sheriff found around the murder site in his pocket. When he had the sheriff on the stand he took one of the murder casings and held it in his hand and asked if this was found at the murder site. The sheriff said, “yes.”
Then Picket pulled out several of his cartridge casings and mixed them up with the murder casings, asking him to pick out the one from the murder site, but he could not. The sheriff stated, “He didn’t mark the evidence.”
Mr. Pickett showed the sheriff lacked evidence gathering protocol and general professionalism, plus the county coroner said Wilson was killed late in the afternoon.
Well, Pickett, the evidence of witnesses and the coroner got Holland off. My dad told me that Holland privately admitted he killed Wilson, but since he had been acquitted, he was safe from prosecution. Once we went to see Holland in his dismal farm in the desert near Beryl, Utah, and caught trout in his pond.
My mother told me years later when I was at the university that Holland went crazy, and was put into an asylum for the insane.
It was the summer before entering the eighth grade, we sold the motel, and I was helping my dad box up things to move to Page, Arizona, where my dad had a construction job building the Glen Canyon Dam. I remember going through some things high up on the shelves where the paint cans were and discovered a partial box of 45-caliber 230-grain military full metal jacket cartridges. When I showed them to my dad, he turned as white as a sheet, and quickly took them away from me. These were the remainder of the cartridges used in the murder.
Years later he told me more of this story as we drove through the Cockscomb Ridge, and he showed me the uranium discovery made on the west side of the ridge just north of the cut.
He reminded me that I had been there years earlier. He then told me a few years later after the murder trial; he took the pistol out of the paint can and smashed the gun into dozens of pieces with his eight-pound sledgehammer on his anvil. (A side note is the anvil he used was his father’s anvil, and I still have it in my shop). Then he put the pieces into a shoe box and on a drive to Zion National Park one weekend, he threw out a piece every few miles.
Now, as far as I know, the case has never been closed on the books of the Kane County Sheriff’s Department. I believe my father could have been tried as a co-defendant because he had possession of the murder weapon, the bullets, and he had a motive. He actually obstructed justice by concealing evidence in a felony murder case.
On June 12, 2010, I was going to Page for my 45th high school class reunion and stopped in Kanab and talked with Sergeant Ted Bernard, the duty officer, about this story and he asked me to submit my story. The above paragraphs contain the story, as I was told or better yet, as I remember.
An interesting side story since meeting with Sergeant Bernard, I Googled the name of Leroy Wilson and discovered this Geiger Counter Murder has been written about in national publications 56 years ago. During this personal investigation, I discovered the two following articles: One published in Crime magazine in May 31, 1954 and another in the National Affairs magazine on September 6, 1954.
There are several errors in the stories I noticed, but I am sure the Crime magazine didn’t have the best of journalist reporters. But it does include one important fact that I remember and that a Geiger Counter was used to entrap the victim, Leroy Albert Wilson.
Editor’s Note – Anyone with more information or memories concerning this, or any other “murders or mysteries” from this area’s past, please share them with us via e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. or drop them by the Southern Utah News office at 245 South 200 East in Kanab.