Death Wore a Long Black Coat (Part 2): “Let Her Rip”

After moving to Fort Worth in 1901 James Brown Miller (see Part 1) sold real estate and was regarded as a respectable member of the community. He attended First Methodist Church. He belonged to the Improved Order of Red Men fraternal lodge. But he continued to moonlight as a contract killer. For example, according to Legends of America, during Miller’s eight years in Fort Worth he killed at least a dozen sheep ranchers at the behest of cattle ranchers. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

In 1902 Miller also is thought to have ambushed and shotgunned to death Lubbock lawyer James William Jarrott, who was a former state representative from Parker County. Jarrott had represented several sheep ranchers against big cattle ranchers. Ranchers paid Miller, Legends of America writes, $500 ($15,000 today) to kill Jarrott.

On March 10, 1903 Miller cornered former deputy U.S. marshal Frank Fore in the men’s restroom of the Delaware Hotel and shot him to death. Miller then turned himself in to the sheriff’s department.

Frank Fore had been investigating Miller, B. B. Burrell (said to be a nephew of Miller), and others for forging a deed in a land swindle. Fore was investigating the swindle for a mortgage company. So, Killer Miller eliminated the star witness. And Miller again was charged with murder.

Fast-forward to 1906. Miller, Carl Adamson, and a third man were acquitted in another swindle. Granted, swindling is rather small potatoes for a contract killer. I bring Carl Adamson to your attention only because we will see him—and B. B. Burrell—again.

In May 1906 Miller pleaded self-defense in the killing of Frank Fore and was—you guessed it—acquitted. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Soon after the acquittal someone put a revolver to Miller’s head and bullet through his hat.

Also in 1906 Ben Collins was a U.S. deputy marshal in Orr, Oklahoma. In 1903 Collins had tried to arrest C. D. Pruitt, a prominent resident of Emet, Oklahoma. When Pruitt resisted arrest, Collins shot him. Contrary to this newspaper report, Pruitt survived but was partially paralyzed. He swore vengeance on Collins. So, he turned to the man in the long black coat. He hired Killer Miller to kill Collins. Price: $1,800 ($52,000 today).

On August 1, 1906 Collins, who also served as a policeman in the Indian Territory, was riding home to his farm when a blast of buckshot knocked him off his horse. The assassin then fired a second blast.

Miller was arrested and charged with murdering Collins and was freed on bond.

Fast-forward to 1908. On Leap Day in February ex-sheriff Pat Garrett was shot to death in New Mexico. Rancher Wayne Brazel confessed to the killing and was acquitted on a plea of self-defense. (See footnote on Brazel at bottom of post.) But some researchers—including writer Glenn D. Shirley—claim that Brazel was a fall guy who confessed to the murder to shield the real killer: Jim Miller. The El Paso Herald wrote: “At the time of the Pat Garrett murder Miller was known to have been in that county.” The only witness to the shooting of Garrett besides Brazel was Carl Adamson, who was driving the buggy in which Garrett was a passenger when gunned down.

Carl Adamson, remember, was Killer Miller’s co-defendant in a swindle case in 1906. Adamson also was  . . . wait for it . . . Miller’s brother-in law.

Fast-forward to 1909. Miller was still free on what one newspaper called “heavy bond” for killing Ben Collins. Witnesses for the state in the Collins case had been killed, forcing the state to delay bringing the case to trial.

Meanwhile up in Ada, Oklahoma cattlemen Jesse West and Joe Allen had another job for Killer Miller.

West and Allen offered Miller $1,700 ($50,000 today) to kill former U.S. marshal Allen Augustus (“Gus”) Bobbitt of Ada. Miller was to be paid by middleman—and nephew—B. B. Burrell, who had been indicted with Miller in the 1904 land swindle.

According to one account, a number of Oklahoma residents, including West and Allen, were cheating Native Americans in a scam called “Indian skinning.” When Oklahoma’s Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory had become the state of Oklahoma in 1907, the state gave Native Americans 160 acres each in exchange for their reservation land. Although Oklahoma law required that the sale of such land to whites had to be approved by a judge, unscrupulous whites took advantage of Native Americans, often getting them drunk and buying their 160 acres for as little as $50.

Gus Bobbitt began to campaign for the election of officials who would stop Indian skinning.

West and Allen didn’t want Bobbitt to spoil their scam. So, they hired Killer Miller.

By another account, lawman Bobbitt had once forced West and Allen to leave Oklahoma, and West and Allen nursed a grudge.

Regardless, on the night of February 27, 1909 Killer Miller stood behind a tree along a lonely country road that led to Bobbitt’s ranch. He rested the barrels of his shotgun in a crotch of the tree. As Bobbitt approached on his wagon, Miller fired two blasts of buckshot into Bobbitt. The shooting was witnessed by Oscar Peeler, a nineteen-year-old cowhand to whom Miller had paid $50 to lead him to Bobbitt. Miller escaped on horseback, avoiding roads by cutting fences and traveling over open land. Investigators later found a pair of wire cutters. Miller stopped to change horses at the home of John Williamson, who was—you guessed it—yet another relative (nephew) of Miller. Miller admitted to Williamson that he had killed Bobbitt and threatened to kill Williamson if he talked. Miller rode away on one of Williamson’s horses.

Gus Bobbitt lived for about an hour. According to the Star-Telegram, “Bobbitt before death stated that Miller shot him.”

Other accounts say Bobbitt did not name Miller but did provide a description of his assailant that matched the description of Miller.

Before Bobbitt died, he told his wife how to dispose of his property, which included $1,000 ($30,000 today) as a reward for apprehension of his killer.

(Rewards offered by the state and by friends of Bobbitt would bring the total to $2,250 [$65,000 today].)

With the double incentive of money and justice, lawmen and vigilantes began searching for Miller. A posse soon found Miller’s first horse at Williamson’s home. The posse beat Williamson until he implicated his uncle in the murder. The hunt for Killer Miller continued.

On March 12 B. B. Burrell was arrested by two Tarrant County deputy sheriffs as he walked down Main Street in Fort Worth.

Two weeks later two deputy sheriffs acting on a tip arrested Miller in a farmhouse a few miles north of Fort Worth. Miller did not resist, although he was in possession of two revolvers, a shotgun, and a Winchester rifle. Miller saw no reason to resist arrest and get shot when he had such a good record of being acquitted by juries.

Miller and Burrell were taken to the jail in Ada.

Fearing mob violence, Miller and Burrell asked some Fort Worth residents, including police detective Sebe Maddox, to come to Ada to ensure that the defendants received a fair trial.

A group of residents of “supposed prominence” in Fort Worth—members of the legal and law enforcement professions—wrote to the sheriff at Ada to urge him to extend to Miller “any courtesies you can and make his bond reasonable.”

According to HistoryNet, West and Allen, who had fled to Texas, were arrested after being lured back to Oklahoma by a ruse. Investigators sent the two men a telegram: “Come to Ada at once. Need $10,000. Miller.”

By April 6 all four suspects were in jail in Ada.

Miller’s fear of mob violence was justified. Gus Bobbitt had been well liked in Ada. Some Ada residents were worried that the state’s case against the four men was not strong enough. At a preliminary hearing nephew John Williamson testified that Miller had killed Bobbitt, but the four suspects had not yet been indicted. Ada residents also knew of Jim Miller’s Teflonesque knack for avoiding conviction. The Star-Telegram reported that Miller had killed from six to twelve men and never been convicted. Further, friends of Bobbitt knew that Miller had hired a lawyer who had a record of acquittals as impressive as his own: No client of Moman Pruitt had ever been executed. Pruitt had won acquittals in 304 of 342 murder cases. On top of that, Miller and the other suspects planned to file a writ of habeas corpus to ask to be released on bond.

Fearing that justice would again be denied, about 3 a.m. on the morning of April 19, 1909 a mob estimated at sixty-five, many of them prominent residents of Ada, marched quietly to the jail. A few in the mob wore masks. Only one jailer was on duty. He offered no resistance. The mob dragged the four suspects from their cells and escorted them to an adjacent livery stable. The suspects were bound with baling wire. Four ropes were thrown over crossbeams of the stable. The four men were made to stand on wooden boxes.

Burrell, West, and Allen were lynched first. Then the mob members asked Miller to confess to his crimes. Miller allegedly responded: “Let the record show that I’ve killed fifty-one men.”

Miller asked to die wearing his long black coat. That request was denied.

He also asked that his diamond ring be given to his wife and that he be permitted to wear his hat as he died. Those requests were granted.

According to HistoryNet, a mob member placed Miller’s hat on his head. Miller reportedly laughed and said, ‘‘I’m ready now. You couldn’t kill me otherwise. Let her rip!”

Miller then reportedly stepped off the box—without prodding—into eternity. After he was dead, one of the mob members reportedly draped Miller’s long black coat over his shoulders.

“It won’t help him now.”

The lynching was front-page news from coast to coast.

After the lynching the mob dispersed. The four bodies were left hanging for six hours until a photographer arrived. Photographs were sold to tourists for many years in Ada. Miller’s body is on the left. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

No one was ever prosecuted for the quadruple lynching.

Miller’s body was returned to Fort Worth, where it “was viewed by many who knew him during life” at the undertaking chapel of George Gause.

James Brown Miller, whose long black coat had meant death to so many, is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

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