Ritchie sent to Wyoming State Penitentiary

By: 
Hannah Gross

Hannah Gross

NLJ Correspondent 

With Leonard Cash, Historian

 

Leonard Cash began recapturing the history of the double strangulation that occurred on Feb. 12, 1967, at the Egert Hotel, located on 314 Stockade Ave. The victims were owner Marion Mason and hotel guest William Adams, and this week, the murder trial for the accused suspect William Ritchie Jr. continues to unfold as we walk through this significant historical event. 

According to an article from the April 6, 1967, News Letter Journal, the preliminary hearing for William Ritchie was still pending. He appeared before Justice of the Peace Ted Cochran and requested a court-appointed attorney. District Judge Rodney M. Guthrie appointed Chester Jones of Newcastle to represent Ritchie at the hearing. By April 13, 1967, the hearing was set for the following day at 9:30 a.m. 

The April 20, 1967, issue reported that Ritchie was bound over to the district court in Newcastle, charged with first-degree murder, without bond. 

“County Attorney Thomas L. Whitley opened the hearing by stating that the state was proceeding under the provision of first-degree murder while committing robbery and therefore would not be proving premeditation and malice at the hearing,” the article says. 

Roger Lewis of Rapid City was the principal witness at the hearing because he was in the Pennington County jail with Ritchie, who told Lewis he was incarcerated for drunk driving. Lewis testified that Ritchie was mad “because they had taken dirt from under his fingernails” and charged him with murder. When Lewis asked if he was guilty, Ritchie originally denied it but later went on to say that he “used his hands.” Ritchie also told Lewis that he bought a car in Newcastle but didn’t have the title. 

On Feb. 19, he admitted to Lewis that he had $1,500, rings, a watch and eyeglass case in his car and that he used a belt to kill the woman. In the cross examination, Lewis stated that he was convicted of a felony twice and was free on $750 bond on a charge of third-degree robbery. 

Defense attorney Jones argued that Ritchie should be bound for second-degree murder rather than first because there was no evidence for the $300 stolen stated in the charges. Whitley countered this by pointing out that multiple witnesses claimed that Ritchie left town in a hurry with a lot of money.

One of the witnesses who testified was Louise McVay of Club Café. She claimed that Ritchie applied for a job in desperate need, and Earl Gray of Castle Conoco also noted that Ritchie came looking for a job, but because he didn’t have any, Ritchie shoveled snow for him.

However, Ritchie didn’t give his full name but claimed to be William Adams, the name of the man who was murdered. That name appeared on the traveler’s checks he cashed at Castle Conoco. At midnight on Feb. 11, Gray saw Ritchie dancing in the Bronco Bar. Bartender Clarence Moser saw Ritchie at 8 p.m., before he left and returned at 11 p.m. 

Robert Snyder of Sioux Truck Stop also testified at the hearing that Ritchie came to him asking where to buy a car. Snyder noted that Ritchie had cash for a bottle of pop, adding that “he had plenty more money.” Snyder saw him again a different time with scratches on his face. Ritchie blamed a girlfriend for the marks.

Joe Aimonetto told the court that he sold Ritchie a 1957 light blue and white station wagon for $550, which he paid for in cash, going to National Bank of Newcastle to retrieve the money. 

City patrol officer Willis Larson, another witness, was on duty the night of the homicides. He saw a leg under some books and papers, and when he touched it, he realized the person was dead. Highway Patrol officer Vern Gleason pulled the papers and a mattress off the face to reveal Mason’s body. That’s when Larson called more authorities. It was also noted that George Butler took pictures of the hotel living quarters to document what had happened. 

Mason was discovered in her bedtime clothes with “minor lacerations on the head and neck.” Her eyes were black, and the neck marks suggested she had been strangled to death. Coroner Don McColley said there was an alcohol odor on the premises. 

Sheriff George Wilcox went to Rapid on Feb. 13 concerning a search warrant filed in court, and Jones objected several times at this point in the hearing, contending that “the South Dakota court had ruled the search warrant was illegal and testimony concerning the search warrants should not be entered into the preliminary hearing,” but Whitley argued that the South Dakota ruling had no effect in Wyoming. 

“Cochran overruled a motion by Jones that the preliminary hearing be continued until the district court in Newcastle could rule on the search warrant matter but directed Whitley not to proceed on testimony concerning the search warrant,” the article says.

The article also noted that no murder weapon found, and there were no visible
fingerprints. 

On May 18, 1967, the paper reported that Judge Guthrie denied the plea of abatement regarding the degree of murder for Ritchie. This had been Guthrie’s second denial of a motion on behalf of Ritchie because he had also denied Ritchie’s petition for a writ of mandamus earlier. 

The following issue announced that Guthrie issued an order sending Ritchie to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston on Monday for a period not to exceed 60 days because Ritchie had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and not triable because of current insanity. He was undergoing examination to validify his insanity claim. 

According to a later report from June 22, 1967, Richard Dumbrill, Ritchie’s other defense attorney, filed a motion for a change of venue on the murder charge, claiming that “because of excitement in Weston County, he would not be able to receive a fair trial in Weston County.”

By July 20, 1967, Ritchie returned from the hospital, but his results were not announced. 

An article from Aug. 24, 1967, reported that Whitley filed second-degree murder charge against Ritchie for the death of Adams. 

On Aug. 31, 1967, the paper stated that Ritchie pleaded guilty in district court on two separate charges of second-degree murder and was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. The search warrant issued in South Dakota for the defendant’s car was declared invalid, thus nullifying evidence found there. Ritchie withdrew the insanity pleas and his request for a change of venue, and after doing so, Whitley lowered the charge of first-degree murder of Mason to second degree. 

On Sept. 2, 1967, Ritchie was taken to the penitentiary in Rawlins, and Cash said Ritchie must still be living there today because he has not found anything about Ritchie’s release during his research. That concludes the exciting murder case at the Egert hotel almost 54 years ago. 

The story made national news and was even published in a magazine, according
to Cash. 

“It was a very popular crime magazine at the time,” he said. 

The Feb. 23, 1967, issue of the paper contained the obituary of Marion Mason, who was born on April 23, 1898, in Whitewood, South Dakota. She is buried in
Greenwood Cemetery. 

Three years after the double homicide, Oren C. Van Sickels and his wife bought the hotel; the new owners moved from Littleton, Colorado, reported the June 25, 1970, edition of the paper.  

By Nov. 22, 1973, Berta Stonis announced that she opened Egert hotel in
an advertisement. 

Cash said the Goodarts bought it eventually and turned it into an apartment building, which is still there today and is owned by John Francis. Cash also noted that the credit bureau might have been located there for a short time. And that concludes the history of the
Egert hotel.

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