A Murder, A Mob, and Mose Gibson: Death in the Time of Jim Crow - Part 5: The Concerns
With Gibson's confession, Orange County authorities assured the locals that they had their man. Soon, the county was flooded with inquiries from around the nation, all trying to discover whether or not the Trapp slayer was responsible for murders in their own jurisdictions. Operating under aliases such as Henry Wilson, Henry Washington, Moses Gibson, Monk Gibson, Wallie Johnson, Wallace Williams, and more, Gibson was a criminal through and through. By the time of his execution, Trapp was charged with nineteen hundred thefts, seven murders, and numerous arrests and imprisonment. His "proven" murders consisted of:
- December 25, 1908 - J.R. Revis, a restaurant man, at Addis, LA
- November 1910 - A storekeeper at Wagoner, LA
- November 1910 - A nightwatchman at Gramercy, St. James Parish, LA
- November 1919 - Mrs. Mary Clark, a widow at Orange City Junction, FL
- June 6, 1920 - Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Erhardt at Phoenix, Arizona
- July 15, 1920 - Roy C. Trapp at Fullerton
Although speedy justice had prevented a lynching in Orange County, soon after the pronouncement of his guilt, several individuals raised concerns regarding the matter of his guilt. For one, as the La Habra Star, noted, "Mose Gibson" turned out to be a very common name of Negroes at that time. Sheriffs received an inquiry about whether or not this "Mose Gibson" was the same Negro from an orphanage in Indiana. How could they be sure that the man they arrested was truly the same man guilty of crimes across the nation? Furthermore, Gibson himself did not match any descriptions of the initial suspects. He was not Mexican and did not "look" Mexican. There was no mention of him speaking Spanish. He was not a white man or a colored man with fair skin. Additionally, according to him, he never had a partner in crime. The sheriff said they got their man, but did they really?
The Louisiana Murders
According to Judge William C. Barnette of Shreveport, Louisiana, a man named "Monk" Gibson was sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1907 after shooting another negro. The judge stated that after serving his sentence, Gibson left for Florida.
But Gibson was alleged to have killed a man named "Revis" in 1908 and a man in Wagoner in 1910. Regarding the Wagoner case, this caused several problems, given that there was no record of a "Mose Gibson" there, no town called "Wagoner" in the state, and no unsolved murder in that section in that year.
As for the 1908 murder, it was believed that a 25-year-old Gibson murdered a man named "Joseph Isadore Rivit," not J.R. Revis, in West Baton Rouge. Though the murder was not witnessed, a man named Joe Clark, another Negro, said he believed Gibson did it. At the time, however, authorities were unable to find Gibson. Instead, a Black man named Brown Roberts, alias "Hobo Brown," was arrested and subsequently lynched for the murder.
If Gibson left for Florida, did he have time to come back and commit two other murders? According to some accounts, Gibson was employed as a bullie on the Texas and Lousiana Railway, so perhaps it was possible. Why was Brown Roberts lynched for this crime if it was believed Mose Gibson did it? Between 1907 and 1910, Mose Gibson was believed to have been arrested and imprisoned in 1907, committed a murder in 1908, traveled to California in 1909, and returned to Lousiana to commit two more murders in 1910. Wagoner did not exist and there was no record of a man being murdered in the supposed region, and the identity of the nightwatchmen remained uncertain.
The authorities also tried to connect Gibson to a 1905 murder case in El Centro, Texas, during which an entire family was wiped out. Allegedly, the deed was carried out by three Negroes, and one got away.
Problem was that another Negro had been lynched for an identical crime. In 1905, Henry "Monk" Gibson was arrested and put on trial for the murder of the Conditt family of Edna, Texas. This Texas Gibson was charged with the crime, and when it was believed he could not have committed the crimes alone, another Black man by the name of Felix Powell was tried and hung. Gibson himself would finally hang in 1908.
How could the same Henry "Monk" Gibson commit mass murder in Texas, go through a trial, and be hung yet manage to keep killing for fifteen years until being caught for the Trapp murders? The guilt of the Texas Gibson remained uncertain, and the parallels in names through uncertainty on the guilt and criminality of the Gibson charged with the Trapp murder. Judge Barnette stated that a "Monk" Gibson committed was arrested and sent to Louisiana state prison in 1907. How could it be proved that the same Gibson committed a cross-country crime spree spanning decades from coast to coast?
Papers reprinted the same story that in 1913, Gibson committed two burglaries on the same night in Omaha, Nebraska. He was arrested after committing a burglary, broke out, and then burgled another house in order to file off his chains.
According to his confession, Mose murdered a woman at Orange City Junction, Florida, in 1919. The problem was that no woman was murdered in that city at that time or any other recorded time. Two women had been attacked around that time although neither died or was left for dead. Additionally, all clues and suspicions for the crime pointed to three white men. No Negro named "Mose Gibson," or any of his other aliases was well-known in the region around that time. Previously, there had been a "Mose Gibson" who came through the town with the circus, and another "Mose Hall" who took the name Gibson after marriage. The Deland News, a local Florida paper, believed that perhaps Gibson was aware of the assaults and who committed them, but did not believe he actually committed any crimes.
Florida's Sheriff Morris traveled to Orange County to sort out the affair, though locally Mose was considered innocent. To them, it seemed as though Gibson was being forced to relay information he had no real knowledge of. Despite this, Orange County's Sheriff Jackson asserted Gibson's guilt, saying in part, "As the report could not be written up for several days after it was taken down, I could not have Gibson sign it, but personally I feel that he has told the truth, and having been taken down by our regular Court Reporter, whom I took to San Quentin with me, I feel that the statement is practically as strong as if it had been under oath."
Gibson was guilty not because they could prove he was guilty, but because Orange County had decided he was telling the truth.
In June of 1920, a couple had been murdered in Phoenix, Arizona. Immediately after the crime, a Mexican named Jesus Maria Barboa had been arrested. But after the arrest of Mose Gibson, a man named Charles Wright, formerly of Phoenix but at the time residing in Fullerton, sent a letter to Sheriff John Montgomery of Maricopa County to look at Gibson as a new prime suspect.
The Arizona Republican alleged that Gibson was well known in the Tucson area. Previously, he had allegedly been arrested at Nogales for violating prohibition and attempting to bring liquor into the United States. Despite the fact that Gibson's fingerprints did not match those found at the victim's home, people still felt he did it.
While in Yuma, Justice Charles Wheeler, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, said he had met a rancher named Harris who had previously employed Gibson in Texas. Harris had been a manager at an oil well, and after an altercation, Gibson allegedly pulled a gun on him.
As with the others, this confession had concerns. Once more, a Mexican had initially been arrested for the crime. As with the Trapp murders, Mose's fingerprints did not match those at the scene of the crime. More still, as with the other murders, the Arizona affair was believed to be carried out by multiple individuals, yet Gibson said he worked alone.
Gibson's guilt was supposed to be reinforced given Harris's account of a violent confrontation with him in Texas. But was this the same Gibson? Did the event actually happen? Considering that a "Monk" Gibson had already been put to death in Texas, how could they be sure it was the same person?
The Phoenix Tribune did not believe for a moment that Mose Gibson was guilty. It printed, "Besides Sheriff Montgomery and County Attorney Laney there are not six people in this county who believe Mose Gibson murdered the Erhardts. They admit the fingerprints of Mose Gibson do not compare with those found at the scene of the murder, still they insist he is the man because, as they claim, "he said so." The man or men who murdered that old couple are still at large and when apprehended will be found to possess a fairer skin than Mose Gibson or any Negro ever wore."
In Orange County, despite not matching suspect descriptions or evidence at the crime scene, Gibson gave a lengthy confession. He was charged with the murder of Roy Trapp as well as 6 other across the nation.
Yet each of the seven murders he was ultimately charged with was riddled with concerns. Gibson did not match any of the suspect descriptions. In many locations, there was more than one "Mose Gibson" or "Monk Gibson." Since he was attributed with so many aliases, it seemed impossible to pinpoint if he was actually the right man.
So why was he rushed to gallows? The answer was simple and obvious to many: To avoid a lynching.