Murder mystery for CSI Central Point
Who could be banging on the window at 2:30 in the morning?
With a temperature near freezing and a hard day ahead, the boys in the Beall farm bunkhouse were none too happy about an unwelcome wakeup call.
They motioned the man to go to the porch. When they opened the door they saw he was badly hurt, blood running down his face. While one of the men ran to get help at the Robert Beall house, hired hands gave the stranger some coffee and water, and tried to get him to talk.
The only thing he said was “Minnesota” and “Fell off train.”
By the time he got to a Medford surgeon, he was dead. A coroner’s jury was convened to find out what had happened.
The man had been in a Medford saloon the previous afternoon, drinking a beer and telling the bartender he was waiting for the train to leave. The bartender remembered the man was wearing an unusually large and peculiarly shaped backpack. He also carried a Winchester rifle.
Within two days, the coroner’s jury had followed an elaborate trail of evidence and issued its report, Feb. 17, 1898. “He came to his death from being struck on the head with some heavy instrument. The killing was murder.”
The man’s wounds were all on his head and not consistent with simply falling off the train. There was a continuous fracture of his skull from above the left eye, over the head, and ending at the base of the skull in the back. The skull was flattened at the top as if it had been hit by some sort of club, no bigger than the head of a railroad spike. A piece of his skull the size of a hand had fallen away.
About two miles north of Medford, investigators discovered a depression in soft dirt where the man had apparently left the train. A considerable amount of blood was on the ground indicating a staggering movement toward the north.
Continuing the search along the tracks toward the Beall home, the man’s hat appeared on the ground. Farther along were a pair of bloody, unrolled blankets, followed by a small sack containing a revolver along with some loose cartridges. About 200 yards farther on, more blankets and what was believed to be the hat of one of the assailants were discovered.
Just past the crossing, near the Beall home, an empty grain sack, split open with a knife, was found with a nearby whisk broom, a Bible and three other books, including a dictionary with the name “Peter Nelson, Willows, Cal.”
Next, Nelson’s satchel, the lock broken and the sides cut open. What apparently were the contents of the satchel were scattered nearby — clothing, and two purses, one cut open and empty, but showing it had “but recently contained either gold or silver money in a considerable amount.” The searchers would later learn Nelson had been carrying $110.
It was here searchers found tracks of two men who apparently had jumped as the train slowed for a stop in Central Point.
The investigators were able to find and inspect the boxcar where Nelson had settled in, and where the assault had taken place. There was a lot of blood on the side door where Nelson’s body had been thrown out. He had left a trail of blood as he was dragged from the end of the car where he had been beaten.
A hinge from one of the car’s ventilators was missing, and authorities assumed it was the murder weapon that had struck Nelson’s head. The Winchester rifle had disappeared.
Nelson was a farmhand from the Sacramento Valley and had hopped a train headed for Portland. Nothing else is known of him. His killers were never found.
The county buried Peter Nelson in an unmarked grave in the pauper section of Medford’s Eastwood/I.O.O.F. Cemetery. His family never knew where he was, or when, or why he had died.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “Eugene Ely, Daredevil Aviator.” Reach him at email@example.com.