Killers in the California Legislature

Did you know that several accused (and sometimes convicted) murderers have served in the California Legislature? It’s true. In December, we shared the stories of ten murdered legislators. Today we have nine members who had blood on their hands.

Charles F. Kenneally – Assemblyman (Republican)
Following a fight between Assemblyman-elect Kenneally and a retired showmaker named William Quane over $8 that Kenneally felt was owed to him, Quane was knocked to the ground and died of a skull fracture as a result. Kenneally was charged with manslaughter the same day. The case was dismissed in March 1899 because a judge found that although Kenneally had pushed Quane, there was “a lack of intent” to kill Quane.

William H. Stone – Assemblyman (Democrat)
“During an argument just outside the Assembly session in the California State Capitol, Assemblyman John C. Bell was shot at (the bullets missed) and stabbed by Stone on April 11th, and died four days later, in Sacramento.” The argument began when Bell told Stone that “Doctor, I am going to defeat your measure,” referring to a bill that proposed to change the boundary between El Dorado and Sacramento Counties.

Harvey Lee – Assemblyman (Union)
On March 25, 1859, Lee stabbed former Speaker Charles S. Fairfax, a wound that would eventually kill him. The fight ended when Lee pulled a sword from his cane and stabbed Fairfax in the chest. Fairfax drew a pistol and was ready to kill Lee when he cried “Don’t kill me; I am unarmed!” to which Fairfax replied “You miserable coward; you have murdered me-you have assassinated me-and I have your worthless life in my hands; but for the sake of your wife and children I shall spare you.”

Daniel Showalter – Assemblyman (Breckinridge Democratic)
Showalter killed former Assemblyman Charles W. Piercy in 1861 (with whom he had served in the 1861 Legislature) in a duel hosted by Charles S. Fairfax. The topic that sparked the duel was the U.S. Senate election. The weapon of choice was rifles.

James R. Vineyard – Assemblyman (Democrat)
“As a member of the territorial legislature in 1842, Vineyard shot and killed a fellow legislator on the floor of the Wisconsin Council (now the State Senate) shortly after adjournment on February 11th. According to the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society; “Following a debate on the floor of the Council of the Legislative Assembly, Charles C.P. Arndt implied that fellow Council member James R. Vineyard, a personal friend of Baker, had made misstatements on Baker’s behalf. After an uproar during which Vineyard denied Arndt’s accusations, adjournment was declared… In the moments following adjournment, Arndt approached Vineyard’s desk on the floor of the assembly and the two continued their disagreement. As Arndt came closer to Vineyard he raised his hand and struck Vineyard in the head. Before any other legislator could intervene to separate the two men, Vineyard drew a pistol and shot Arndt in the chest. Arndt reeled backward and fell to the floor, dying where he had fallen about five minutes later.” [a photo of the vest and detailed description]

Jesse S. Pitzer – Assemblyman (Democrat)
In 1872, “H. A. Wickware was accidentally shot in an affray between Jesse S. Pitzer and Al Jenson [in Nevada]. His leg was amputated, but he subsequently died from the effects of the wound.” (Source: RootsWeb)

James W. Denver – State Senator (Democrat)
In 1852, Edward Gilbert challenged Denver to duel after Denver criticized an article that Gilbert had written in the Alta California calling the gift of financial assistance to members of the Donner Party a ruse to raise the political popularity of Governor John Bigler. The terms of the duel called for rifles at short range. In the first round, Denver fired into the air, while Gilbert aimed and him and missed. Denver attempted to call off a second round of the duel, but Gilbert refused and Denver shot and killed him.

David F. Douglass – State Senator (Whig)
In 1839, Douglass killed a man named Dr. William Howell and served 14 months in prison.

Charles Robinson – Assemblyman (Whig)
Robinson was a leader of the 1850 Squatters Riot in Sacramento that killed eight (including Sacramento Mayor Hardin Bigelow) and wounded six. Robinson was in a Sacramento prison on these murder charges (the case was never brought to trial) when he was elected to the Assembly.

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