KILLS TWO, FATALLY WOUNDS ANOTHER
AND ESCAPES POSSE AT CITY LIMITS.
John Mansker's Body, as Pictured in the Newspaper
The headline screams in four-alarm type across all seven columns of the front page
of the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review newspaper for June 9, 1911:
Around 4:30 in the afternoon of June 8, William Byrd, armed with a .30-30
Winchester rifle, stepped off a streetcar in the little village of Dishman,
just east of Spokane, and shot two men who were constructing a building next to
John B. Mansker died instantly with two bullets in his heart and one through
the right side of his body; George H. Whipple was shot in the mouth and neck
and died later that night at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane.
When the cry went up that Byrd had killed the two men, a group of men gathered
and began to give chase. A short distance away, Byrd fired again and wounded
Justice of the Peace G. W. Meisner, who later also died of his wounds.
Nineteen-eleven was the heyday of yellow journalism and the paper pulled out
all the stops in sensationalizing the crime and the subsequent pursuit of Byrd.
Over the next four days the paper devoted no less than 190 column inches of
space (by actual measurement) to the crime and to the flight and capture of
what the paper, in an excess of hyperbole, referred to as "one of the most
cold-blooded murderers in the history of the northwest".
Ordinary daily newspapers of the time routinely handled stories in a way which
we now associate only with the more unsavory supermarket tabloids. The
reporting was complete with diagrams and pictures of the murder site and a
photograph of John Mansker's body (see above). The paper also breathlessly reported that
the "most gruesome part of the tragic scene...was the effort that had to be
made to keep a large black dog from the body of the dead man".
Motive for the Whipple shooting was unclear, although jealousy over Mrs.
Whipple was mentioned, and Whipple himself had said "family troubles" just before he died.
John, who was identified as a contractor, had fired Byrd from a
carpentry job a few days earlier and this was given as the probable motivation
for his murder.
On the first day of the story, John was identified as a "John Manski, 32, unmarried, of
Dishman" and was listed as a carpenter; in following stories, however, his name
was reported correctly. There was no obituary in the paper for John, but on the
third day, in the story of the Meisner and Whipple funerals, the paper
reported: "A telegram was received...by the Gillman Undertaking Company from
Margaret Mansker of Warner, Okla., a relative of John Mansker, the first man to
be killed by Byrd. It read: 'Bury John, send description and if it is the man
send us the bill.'"
This telegram was from the former Margaret Allen, the wife of John S. Mansker,
mother of murder victim John B. Mansker, and my great-grandmother.
John Mansker is buried in an
unmarked grave, Lot 31-3-25, in Greenwood Cemetery. Spokane.
What happened to William Byrd?
After eluding the sheriff's posse for several days in the mountains southeast
of Spokane, William Byrd finally gave himself up on June 12. When asked why he
had done it, he replied that "it was a long story but you would have done the
He stated that Mansker and Whipple had threatened to kill him on sight, so he
went out to fight it out with them. When they refused to fight he called them
cowards and shot them.
Byrd also hinted at a love triangle involving himself and the Whipples, but
claimed that he had not intended to kill Whipple. "I was shooting at Mansker,"
he said, and Whipple stepped in the way. "You know, Mansker threw a hammer at
me. He didn't hit me, and then I let him have three of these soft-nosed
On July 24, Byrd collapsed in his cell with heart failure, but recovered
sufficiently to stand trial in the fall. On October 11, 1911, the William Byrd
trial ended. After six hours of deliberation, he was found guilty of
murder in the second degree for the killing of John Mansker. He had been
charged with first-degree murder; the jury disagreed, but not before nine of
the twelve initially voted for a finding of murder in the first.
"What saved Byrd," jury foreman A. C. Long said after the trial, "was the testimony that he
loaded his gun after he went into the building where Mansker and Whipple were
at work. Had he gone there intending to commit murder, he would have his
cartridges ready to shoot on sight."
Byrd was never tried for the killing of Whipple and Meisner. He was sentenced
to a term of 10 years to life at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla,
The Washington State Department of Corrections reported that William Byrd, a
carpenter, was 38 when he entered prison on Nov 4, 1911; he was paroled on Jan
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, June 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14, July 6 and
24, October 22, and November 4, 1911.