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The Stolen Pinkerton Reports of the Colonel Albert J. Fountain Murder Investigation, edited by David G. Thomas, Doc45 Publishing, Las Cruces, N.M., 2020, $19.95

This is Vol. 6 in the Mesilla Valley History Series, editor David Thomas having written the first five volumes. The murder of Albert Jennings Fountain on Feb. 1, 1896, caused even more shock and outrage than might be expected in New Mexico Territory, as killed alongside the prominent attorney was his 8-year-old son, Henry. The double murder was never solved, despite an investigation by Doña Ana County Sheriff Pat Garrett, the man who’d killed Billy the Kid, and Pinkerton National Detective Agency operatives John Conklin Fraser and William C. Sayers. Garrett believed the men responsible were Oliver Lee, Jim Gililland and Bill McNew; the first two stood trial for murdering Henry in spring 1899 but were found not guilty, and no one was ever tried for the murder of the elder Fountain. A day-to-day description of the trial appears in Vol. 5 of the series, Killing Pat Garrett: The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman—Murder or Self Defense?

In Vol. 6 Thomas surmises the taciturn Garrett was not fully cooperative with the Pinkerton operators because he had no interest in helping Fraser solve the crime. “Garrett wanted and intended to do it himself,” the author writes. Because there are no surviving trial transcripts or witness testimonies, the Pinkerton reports commissioned by New Mexico Territory Governor William T. Thornton and published here are the only extant reports of the murder investigation. Thornton stopped the Pinkerton investigation when he discovered their reports had been stolen from his desk. “The person who took them had a personal interest in the case,” Thomas writes, “and a personal interest in seeing that the reports were unavailable for use in any trial.” The fascinating reports in this book are based on copies of the originals housed at the archives and special collections of New Mexico State University.

Fraser and Sayers were two competent Pinkerton men who took statements from witnesses and suspects and then tried to verify the information they got—”a process,” writes Thomas, “that remains at the heart of criminal investigation today.” In an April 14, 1896, letter to Governor Thornton, Fraser wrote, “All previous investigations so far have amounted to nothing,” but he expressed optimism other operatives should continue the investigation, adding he would do so himself if he wasn’t leaving for England on an important matter. He certainly had his suspects, writing, “I feel satisfied that this entire matter will come home to Oliver Lee, and that Bill McNew, Jack Tucker, Bill Carr and others are implicated in this matter.” In the end, though, all of them escaped punishment. The Pinkerton men went on to other things, while Garrett was shot and killed from ambush, in the same general area as the Fountain murders, on Feb. 29, 1908. No one was convicted of his murder, either.


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