Sunday, July 14, 2013
Teller County forgery, cattle theft, possible murder, overshadowed by war
The threat of being drawn into to World War II was hanging heavy over the United States when Divide rancher Sumner Alfred Osborn went missing in October of 1941.
The first indication that something was terribly wrong surfaced when Sumner Osborn's mother, Mrs. A.H. Osborn, 215 South 11th Street, called Sheriff Sam Deal's office. Undersheriff Roy Glasier investigated and was told by Mrs. Osborn that on the night of Oct. 16, a man she did not know, came to her house and requested S.A. Osborn's mail, saying that he had been instructed by Osborn to pick it up. There was no mail that day, so he returned the next, and she gave him a letter: She told Glasier that the letter had not been sealed properly and she looked in it, seeing a check made out to Sumner Osborn for $55.62, according to a 1962 account related by Carl F. Mathews. Mathews worked on unsolved crimes as superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in the Colorado Springs Police Department for years before he retired in 1952.
"The man told her that he and Osborn had sold a load of posts to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the check was in payment, Glaiser investigated further and found the check had been made out for the sale of four horses to the zoo: the check was traces and endorsement was found to have been forged by one of the trio (George Marion Betts, John Cahill and Lester Cahill, brothers, all of Divide) and cashed at the Broadmoor Garage on Oct. 17," Mathews related in his paper about unsolved crimes.
Sheriff Deal was immediately in touch with Sheriff Cecil Markley at Cripple Creek and a trip was made to Osborn's ranch. The last time that Sumner Osborn was seen was Oct. 16, when he walked to neighbor's ranch and asked if someone could take him to the highway as he wanted to go to Colorado Springs to report that four horses had been stolen. Unable to get ride, he continued on foot.
"Betts in his confession admitted he went to Mrs. Osborn's home and obtained the check after Lester Cahill brought him from Divide. He said Johnny Cahill endorsed the check but that he and Lester stayed in the auto while Johnny went into into the garage to get the money."
The Cahills also, according to the confession, drove the herd of 14 Osborn cattle to the the Cahill ranch, loaded in a truck, and took them to the stockyards in Denver and sold them for $599.99.
"Betts declared the check was made out to 'Earl Osborn' and the two Cahills went to a Denver bank and cashed it. He asked the Cahills where Osborn was and they said they didn't know."
A heavy snow covered the region and made a search for Osborn difficult. By Nov. 2, Sheriff Markey had made the determination that foul play had occurred. A $100 reward was offered.
By Nov. 4, Lester Cahill indicated that he wanted to plead guilty to the cattle rustling, and authorities had been questioning both the Cahills, but they insisted that did know what had happened to Osborn. Lester admitted selling the cattle, but John denied any involvement.
By Nov. 6, Sheriff Deal, acting on a hunch, surveyed an abandoned mine pit called the Little Annie. the 300-foot shaft had the reputation of being a 'bad hole' and full of water at the bottom and plagued by deadly gas fumes in the bottom. The tried to lower a miner down into the shaft in a bucket but abandoned that effort when more bad weather arrived. a second attempt later, using more equipment, including a portable winch. George Gotham went down to 110-foot level, but declared the effort useless with such a short cable.
The next day, another experienced miner, Andy Kuhlman, was lowered to 250 feet, but said he found no gas, no water, and no body.
"He reported he descended to a point where the old timbers had fallen from the top and closed the lower part. The next day, Frank Mayes, deputy game warden, his nephew Fred, Willis White, nephew of Osborn, and Andy Kuhlman explored and ice cave east of Midland some 60 feet deep, known to but a few residents. And also and old mining tunnel, 600 feet deep, but without results. They reported the area was full of abandoned workings, many of which had not been touched for years," wrote Mathews in his unsolved crimes paper.
By Nov. 15, the Cahill brothers were willing to plead guilty to the horse and cattle theft but when questioned repeatedly on the whereabouts of Osborn "they had nothing to say." By the end of the month, they were charged, as was Betts, who was only involved in the horse theft.
"On Dec. 5, Harry Sollo, a real estate agent and self-styled 'student of psychic phenomena' said had received a 'message' which 'told him within a half-mile of where Osborn's body was lying.' He said he would leave an envelop, sealed and not to be opened until Monday, giving the location so the accuracy of the message could be proved after the search," according to Mathew's account.
That following Sunday, a procession of about 70 cars that included Sollo and four sisters of Osborn, was taken to a spot five miles east of the Cahill ranch, but the 'student of psychic phenomena' claimed they were taken to the wrong spot. And while they were, the body was being removed.
According to a message left at the Gazette and Telegraph office later, "the body was in a well five miles east of the Cahill place; Sollo also claimed that he had received information giving the actual location, and that Osborn had been shot with a revolver and beaten to death."
From that time on, after the dry psychic hole, the Osborn case was overshadowed by news of the war, and in effect, moved to the back burners of local investigation.
At their cattle rustling trial in February, the state Brand Inspector Earl Brown, testified that one of men selling the cattle, filled out paperwork that the car they were driving belonged to Alf Coulsen, a former Teller County Commissioner, and that the driver was "Earl Osborn," a brother of Sumner Osborn, who had been been dead for a year or more at the times the crimes were committed. The case went to jury, and the Cahills were sentenced to terms of eight and 10 years. Betts, only involved in the horse theft, received probation. The Cahills served their terms at the Colorado State Penitentiary, and were later released.
Sumner Alfred Osborn's body was never found.