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  • Kalyn McCall

A Murder, A Mob, and Mose Gibson: Death in the time of Jim Crow - Part 1: The Crime

July 15, 1920

Shortly after midnight, chaos ensued at the home of wealthy Fullerton rancher Roy G. Trapp. At the time, Roy's ranch sat on forty acres. Additionally, with his brothers George Trapp of Buena Park and J.H. Trapp of Norwalk, he ranched 160 acres at Norwalk and 320 acres of bean land at Irvine.

Suddenly, Freda, his wife, awoke just in time to see her husband overpowered and beaten to death with a miner's hammer. In some tellings, Freda sprang at the intruder only to be beaten unconscious, her brain exposed from blows to the head. In others, when the intruder saw her awake, she was attacked unprovoked.

The intruder (or intruders) escaped silently into the night. Hours later, around 5 am, Freda Trapp stirred. She came to, summoned her strength, and crawled to the telephone to ring her nearest neighbor, Pete Nicholas, who lived a quarter-mile away. He picked up, and before she lost consciousness again, she gasped: "Two Mexicans tried to kill us."

So began one of the most notorious murder cases in Orange County history, culminating in the execution of a Negro named Mose Gibson. By the time of his hanging at San Quentin, he stood accused of not the murder and assault at the Trapp's Fullerton ranch, but of at least seven cross-country murders and thousands of burglaries. But was he guilty?

That is unclear. But after the lynching of Francisco Torres in 1892, the handling of the Mose Gibson case and Trapp murders - if anything - provide an insight into the workings of "justice" in early Orange County. Gibson's execution on September 24, 1920, took place at the height of Jim Crow and the nadir of American race relations. Once accused and pronounced guilty, his time was up. Revisiting the case does not reveal his guilt or innocence. It does not unmask the "real" killer if there is one. Yet it does reflect on the meaning of law and order in a quiet, southern California community.

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