The drunk-driving triple homicide

While my grandfather, William Eugene Prettyman, was alive, he alluded on a few occasions to an accident he was in in which three people were killed.  To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t tell the full story to any of his family members, but he conveyed enough overlapping pieces to several family members that the skeleton of a confusing story slowly came into focus.

The pieced-together bits of the story added up to something like this:

Bill Prettyman was asked to drive three of his mother’s friends from Minnesota to Washington and back.  On the way back, the car crashed and the three women were killed.  Bill was a heavy drinker, so the possibility existed that this was an alcohol-related accident.  Bill’s obvious guilt over the incident made this seem even more likely.  When Bill arrived back home in Minnesota, he found that his mother, Rose (Gores) Prettyman, would not speak to him.  Rose blamed the accident on Bill and had gone through Bill’s room and thrown away many of his belongings, including all of his high-school trophies.

I tried for years to learn more about the crash and the deaths, but without knowing the date of the accident, the location of the accident, or the names of the involved, I kept running into walls.

And then, in early August, 2012, while helping organize my grandmother’s belongings for her move into a new home, my sister examined a Winter Olympics bag that caught her interest (the 2012 Summer Olympics were on the television and it seemed a curious coincidence).  As she looked inside the bag, she saw the small envelope pictured at the right.  She saw the yellowed newspaper clippings inside and excitedly handed the envelope to me.

Inside the envelope were four newspaper clippings.  They tell the story well enough on their own, so I’ll present them and their transcriptions below.

Trio is Killed as Cars Crash

Head-on Collision Occurs in Western Montana.

Missoula, July 1.—(U.P.)—A hitch-hiker identified only as “Jack” died at a local hospital Thursday morning and brough the death total to three as the result of a head-on crash 51 miles west of here Wednesday afternoon.  Charles Owens, Butte painter[,] succumbed to head injuries at 11:30 o’clock Wednesday night.

The crash occurred when a car driven by Harry Dingle, Anaconda[,] with whom Owens and the unidentified hitch-hiker were riding, crashed into a Minnesota car. Highway patrol officers said Dingle’s car went out of control after he had passed a machine on a wide curve.  Dingle suffered only bruises and slight lacerations.

Mrs. Marion Isherwood, wife of a Sedaka, Minn., newspaper editor, was killed instantly.

Law enforcing officials said Thursday that charges would be brought against Dingle, whom they said was intoxicated at the time of the crash.  An inquest will be held here probably Friday, Mineral county Sheriff Roy Charrette announced.  Proceedings will be carried on here, he said.

Meanwhile Coroner Guy Stucky of Missoula county, who has charge of the bodies, took fingerprints of the 20-year-old “Jack” to be forwarded to Washington, D.C., for possible identification.

Owens is thought to have lost a brother in an accident at the Leonard mine a few years ago.

Transient is Dead, Result of Crash

Third Victim of Highway Collision Near Superior Yesterday

(Continued From Page 1.)

[editor’s note: the clipping with the first half of this story was missing from the envelope.]

proximately an 80-mile an hour speed “all the way out.”

The two who were frightened at Dingle’s driving and who probably saved their lives by leaving his car are Glen Scheurenbrand and Jerry Roth, Mitchell, S.D.  They were riding with Dingle, they said, when he picked up the hitchhiker “Jack.”

Swerves From Control

Officers said that the Dingle car swerved out of control as it sped west on the highway, and crashed into the left front of the Minnesota car.  So terrific was the impact that Patrolman Gilligan was forced to pry the hitch-hiker out of the mangled wreckage with a pick-axe and a crowbar.  None of the occupants of either car was thrown out, he said.  Mrs. Isherwood and Mr. Owens succumbed to skull injuries and internal hurts, it was stated.

Gilligan described the scene as he reached it: “I had been cruising for about an hour and decided to head up toward Superior.  Suddenly I saw a commotion in the road and made for it.  The two cars were a twisted mass of wreckage.  Prettyman (the driver of the Minnesota car) was standing near it.  Blood streamed from him.  Fred Worden, (a service station operator) offered to help Prettyman while I tried to help the others, especially the little girl who was bleeding profusely from a deep shoulder cut.  In a few minutes I heard Prettyman say: ‘Officer, come and help me.  We can’t stop the blood and I’m bleeding to death!’  We fashioned a tourniquet and finally the bleeding stopped.  It was stubborn and for a time we feared he would die there.  It took both Warden and myself to stop it.

Alcoholic Test

“Dingle didn’t seem badly hurt.  He had a few scratches and was bruised.”

Today Gilligan was waiting for an analysis of Dingle’s stomach content and blood to test possible alcoholic content.

Sheriff Roy Charette of Superior, who was called to the scene, the driver of a Golden Glo creamery truck and a Superior mortuary truck aided the patrol officer in bringing in the injured.

According to local officers Sheriff Charette of Mineral county, who is also coroner, said that an inquest will probably he held in the next day or two at the Missoula county courthouse.

Meanwhile Coroner Guy Stucky of Missoula county had taken fingerprints of the hitch-hiker and prepared to forward them to Washington, D.C., in an effort to ascertain his identity. “Jack” died without regaining consciousness.  Charles Owens succumbed to his hurts at 11:30 o’clock Wednesday night.

Coroner’s Jury Puts Fatal Crash Blame on Anaconda Driver

A Mineral county coroner’s jury at 8 o’clock Friday night returned a verdict in the death of Mrs. Marian Isherwood, Sedeka, Minn., killed in a highway accident Wednesday afternoon near Superior, fixing the blame on Harry Dingle, Anaconda, driver of a car which crashed into the car in which the Minnesota woman was a passenger.

Testimony was taken here because victims of the crash who survived are confined at a local hospital.  The jurors then returned to Superior where the verdict was officially rendered.

Dingle, driver of the death car, in which were riding Charles Owens, 25-year-old Butte painter and a hitch-hiker positively identified Friday as Jack Updegraff, Spokane, refused, from his hospital bed, to make any statement.

Mineral County Attorney Walter T. Murphy appraised Dingle, who suffered slight injuries in the crash of his constitutional rights and the Anaconda man replied: “I do not want to testify until I see my lawyer.”

The Verdict.

Here is the verdict: “Marian Isherwood came to her death in Mineral county, state of Montana, in a collision in said county between two autos being driven upon highway No. 10 at a point in said county about 10 miles east of Superior, one being driven by Harry Dingle and the other by William Prettyman.  That her death was the result of injuries sustained in said collision and said death was occasioned by the act of said Harry Dingle in operating and driving his auto in a careless, reckless and unlawful manner.  (Signed)  Russel Corn, Ted Corn, George Viche, L. L. Mowerr, William Castles, S. A. Buchard.”

Anna May Updegraff, sister of the hitherto unidentified hitch-hiker, arrived Friday and made positive identification of her brother, John Edward Updegraff, 18.  Other survivors are his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Updegraff.

Coroner’s Jury Puts Blame on Anaconda Man

Mineral County Authorities Conduct Inquest In Missoula

(Continued From Page 1.)

It was understood that John had left home about three weeks ago on a short vacation to see some of the country.

Miss Updegraff accompanied the body to Spokane at midnight Friday.

Mrs. Gerald Lee, and Mrs. Harold Parker gave testimony regarding weather conditions.  Virginia Lee, 14-year-old daughter of the injured Mrs. Lee, was not called upon to give testimony.  She suffered a shoulder fracture, a deep chest laceration and a brain concussion. All were riding in the Minnesota car.

Prettyman’s Statement.

William Prettyman, driver of the Minnesota machine, described the events which led up to the tragedy. Swathed in bandages Prettyman, who was severely cut about the head and body, gave a disposition which told of the approach of the Dingle car.

“We were driving along about 50 miles an hour,” said the Wadena, Minn., youth, “when I noticed a car round a curve and then swerve.  It seemed to be traveling at a terrific rate of speed.  All at once the machine swerved toward the ditch on its side of the road.  I took my foot off the gas when I saw the way the car was being driven.  The machine slewed into the ditch alongside the road and continued to race along, clouds of dust whirling from the read.  I said “My God, look at that car.  Then the machine came upon the road and roared toward us.  I at first thought he would right it, but as it came down upon us I jammed on my brakes.  I turned my car so that the oncoming machine would not hit us headon.”

Officers said that the Dingle car, a high-powered, new, eight-cylinder machine, struck the Prettyman car on the left front portion.

Highway Patrolman John J. Gilligan gave testimony as to the distance the Dingle car traveled along the road crown and the position of the cars when he arrived at the scene.

Took Measurements.

“My measurements,” said Gilligan, “show that Dingle traveled along the shallow ditch at the roadside for 900 feet, then swerved back onto the highway and crossed the road, crashing into the Minnesota car.  From evidence left by car wheels and the general appearance of the dirt along the ditch, it is my opinion that Dingle did not slacken his speed at any time.”

Jerry Roth, Mitchell, S.D., hitch-hiker, who with Glen Scheurenbrand, a companion, had left the Dingle car shortly before the crash, described how he and his friend had left the car at a roadside soft drink stand because “they were frightened by the manner in which Dingle handled his car.”

“It seemed to me he drove 85 or 90 miles an hour all the way,” said the Dakota youth. “Most of the time we just “skinned” by cars.  We passed everything in sight, and the speed we were going and the way we kept passing so close to cars made me want to get out as soon as I could.  I think that he must have gone 95 miles an hour some of the time.”

Elmer Chadwick, Alberton filling station operator, and a Mr. Ladiges, also of Alberton, told of seeing Dingle when he stopped his machine there.  Their testimony was that Dingle was “acting up.”  When he got back into his car the two men said Dingle backed up on a sidewalk, struck a lamp post, and then roared down the street in low gear for a good distance before shifting gears.

Physician Testifies.

Dr. J. W. Doyle, Superior, testified as to the injuries sustained by persons in both cars.  He also said that Dingle’s breath smelled of liquor.

Although physicians refused to make public their findings regarding an analysis of Dingle’s stomach content and his blood, they intimated strongly that heavy traces of alcohol were found in both.  “Well, he had some sort of poison in his stomach,” was the way one physician put it when questioned as to possible per cent contents of alcohol in the blood and stomach.

The inquest Friday was conducted only in the death of Mrs. Isherwood.  What action may be taken in the deaths of Owens and Updegraff was not known here.

The body of Mrs. Isherwood will be sent from Lucy’s mortuary today to Minnesota.

Owens’ mother and sister, Wenatchee, Wash., were here briefly Friday, and continued to Butte.  They will return today and make funeral arrangements.

C.A. Prettyman, father of William Prettyman, arrived Friday to visit until his son is more improved.

Young Prettyman was feeling quite well late Friday, and laughed and joked with [visitors]. The tension of the inquest and repeated references to the tragedy had been wearing upon him earlier in the day, but after some rest and after seeing his father the young man was in better spirits.  He suffered a deep facial cut, lacerations to both arms and a cut on his hip. The injuries will leave some scars, but more serious results are unexpected.

Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Parker were also feeling quite well Friday.

Virginia, little daughter of Mrs. Lee, was still in considerable discomfort, but doctors said she was “coming along nicely.”

X-ray pictures revealed that Mrs. Parker suffered a fractured vertebra hitherto unannounced, and that Dingle suffered a fractured rib.

Leave a Reply