Note: In some research the name of the subject of this blog is referred to as “Marshall” with the double “l”. Other he’s referred to as Marshal. I’ve gone with the double “l” spelling which may or may not be correct. In his statement, his name is Marshal. If written by his own hand, I’d expect him to know how to spell his own name. If it was dictated, then if might be an error. The invite goes with the double “l” spelling.

Someplace in this edition of the the Bad Guys of the San Luis Valley, there’s one heck of a story. The problem is, which one is true? Did someone get away with murder or did it happen as the guilty explained? There’s a suspicion that the guy who got hung for this crime should have had company.

The case begins like so many homicides today. Rarely will a person just up and disappear. Oftentimes people leave without telling anyone. People run away from debt, and sometimes they run away with someone else. But it’s very rare a person just disappears. If alive, they always turn up.

And if they do just disappear, and they don’t turn up, chances are they’re in a grave someplace.

In Saguache County in 1885, two girls, Amanda Goodwin and Katie Clements were riding horses together. They were neighbors and friends, and often rode together. The conversation turned to neighbors. Amanda asked Katie whether her Uncle Thomas Clements and his wife Susie had indeed left the Valley. Katie admonished her to keep it quiet, but admitted that she, Marshall, and Nono (Marshall’s sister Honora?) had killed Thomas and his wife and buried the bodies.

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The first novel in the Lawman series

The crime happened on the Queenstown Ranch, some seven miles south of Moffat, Colorado. Both victims were buried on the banks of the Twin Ditch.

Amanda told her folks of what had been said, the Sheriff was notified, and their bodies were soon found, buried just as Katie had described.

This began one of the strangest trials ever. The entire Clements clan was arrested and held on suspicion of murder.

But Marshall Clements took the blame for everything. As he explained, there had been bad blood between him and his brother. Thomas Clements had married Susie, and from what Marshall had to say, she went about causing problems between her, Thomas, and the rest of the family. It was so bad she earned the nickname of “Vinegar.”

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At least one old resident related that some of the bad blood might have been because Thomas received some inheritance from somewhere in England. If so, Marshal never mentioned it.

According to the statement Marshall gave, he and Thomas had gone hunting and began to talk. It turned into an argument. From what I’ve been able to piece together, Thomas called into question his sister’s honor. It seems his wife Susie had said something, and Thomas backed her on it.

It was enough for Marshall. He raised his shotgun and killed his brother. For the longest time, he sat next to the body trying to figure out what to do with it. Like Cain, he was guilty of killing his brother, and he chalked it up to a good days’ work. Like so many clumsy crooks, he tried to hide his crime. He dug a shallow grave, and dumped his brother into it.

What was going on in his mind is often times seen today in crimes. The murderer rarely takes the complete blame. Marshall felt that Susie had caused this, and he determined to lay her out right next to her husband.

When he got to his brothers house, he told Susie that Thomas had hurt himself and was at a cabin asking for her. She went with him. As they got close to where Thomas was buried, Marshall raised his weapon a second time and pulled the trigger. He says she fell, gasped, and died. He dug a second grave and dumped his sister-in-law into it.

Then he went home and told the family that Thomas and his wife had left the Valley.

There were enough unanswered questions that a short time later, young Amanda asked Katie about it. After all, no one knew they ware leaving. Their home, and I can only assume everything they owned was still there. It didn’t make sense, and thus the question from Amanda.

She got an answer she didn’t expect, and that’s where our story started.

It also indicates that the family knew more than they were saying. At one point, the three were all people of interest in the murders. Katie’s statement and the beginnings of this investigation certainly indicated she had some knowledge of the events.

But Marshall insisted the family knew nothing about what he’d done, and had no part in it.

According a blurb printed in the Aspen Weekly on December 5, 1895, the family cooked up a plot for Marshall to take the blame for the murders and save everyone else from the gallows.

Now there’s a conversation you don’t have at the dinner table every day. “Dear Brother. We’re all guilty, but while you went and took care of the horses, we had a vote and decided you should be the fall guy for us.”

Now it’s a logical conclusion that they were all involved based on what Katie said. If so, we can only wonder why the Sheriff didn’t pursue things a little further. Maybe he just wasn’t that good at interviewing a suspect. At the very least, Katie had made herself  an accomplice since she knew of the crime and said nothing to the sheriff about it. I’d sure like to take a look at the case notes (assuming they exist) and see if she was even questioned about it.

My personal opinion is that the Justice System balked at the idea of finding a woman guilty and then hanging  her. While there had been hangings of women in the United States at that time, there hadn’t been many. It’s not a line easily crossed even to this day. I think the prosecutor and defense let Marshall take the blame and that helped steer them away from hanging a woman.

So, if there was a conspiracy to have Marshall take the blame, then it worked. Even in a dying statement Marshall stated he was the one responsible, and the family had nothing to do with it.

I’ve copied and pasted his confession into this blog. It makes for interesting reading.

Hangman’s Victim – Marshal Clements Strung up for a Double Murder
Clements’ Dying Statement – Denver, December 3 – A Saguache special to the News says: Marshal Clements was hung here this morning for the murder of his brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Susie Clements. He made the following sworn statement:
To Whom It May Concern:
“I, Marshal Clements, being in sound mind and unimpaired health, solemnly swear and declare before Almighty God, before whom I expect to be soon ushered, that what is herein stated is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In the matter of the death of Thomas H. Clements and his wife, Susie I. Marshall Clements am guilty of their death and I alone. No person of my family or otherwise gave me any advice or assistance previous to or subsequently in thought word or deed and no member of my family knew of the circumstances attended their death till on the tenth day of November, I made my statement in Saguache county court house. This statement is voluntarily made, without fear or favor, at instigation of no person, whether lawyer, court officer, sheriff, etc.
“On the seventeenth day of August, 1885, said Thomas H. Clements and I,; Marshal Clements, were about one hundred yards from where the body of Thomas H. was found interred. There had been words between us and ill feeling existed between us for some time previous. I had a double barreled shot gun; I raised the gun and killed him instantly. I did not think the shot gun would kill him, and was horrified at finding I had killed him. After a while I dug a grave and buried him where the body was found, no one being witness to the whole transaction. The cause of ill feeling existing between us was that he (Thomas H) had on several occasions heaped abuse on our sister, to whom both of us owed everything. Little more than child herself, Tom’s wife imposed upon her good nature till her health broke down. My brother, instead of finding out how matters were, abused his mother and sister, and kept it up till he died. He also abused my father at the instigation of his wife, who had no respect for age, speaking of her own father as a fool. He spoke of my father as an old fool and of my other sister as a Jezebel. As for me, I had, in his opinion disgraced the family in marrying a girl who knew how to cook a meal of victuals that was digestible. No man will call my sister a prostitute in my presence or where it will come back to me and when asked to retract, will add to it, if I had a gun I’d fire. I was determined she would suffer for alienated affections and love of my poor brother whom I had just lost by my own hand. I went to the house where she lived and told her Tom was hurt and was in a cabin about a mile distant. She put on her hat and started to the spot indicated. No one saw us leave. She told me of a dream she had, every word of which stung me like an adder. She walked with a firm step, sometimes fretting for Tom, then telling me some foolish story. When within about seventy-five feet of where the body was found, I raised the gun and fired. She died almost instantly. He was buried almost immediately. No person saw me either commit the murder or bury the body. In stating the above I have started on a line of truth and I have had to my many things which I would very much like to leave unsaid. I hope to be forgiven by a merciful God for this crime and for greater sins in His sight and I can well afford to forgive any wrong, fancied or real, to myself or family. I have not made this statement to justify my act, which is unjustifiable taken from my point of view, and for less do I do it to hurt the character of those who lips the tomb has sealed. Let an intelligent public draw its own conclusions as to whether any person or persons are guilty along with me of the crime, previous to doing so or subsequently.
Signed “Marshal Clements”
Sworn and subscribed before me, a notary public in and for the county of Saguache, state of Colorado, this ? day of December, A D. 1885 Signed L. H. Decker, Notary Public. Witness: N. J. Bennett. (Apen Weekly Times, December 5, 1885)

The Clements Crime
Special to the Times – Saguache, December 4 – It is believed the family of Clements are equally guilty with him and that while in jail together fearing that all would hanged, they agreed that Marshall alone should suffer. (Aspen Weekly Times, December 5, 1885)  

A couple of seasoned detectives and criminal psychologists I know took a look at the statement and they agree with me and the Aspen Weekly that Marshall was hiding the involvement of others and that he might have had company on the gallows if the matter had been investigated properly.

Marshall Clements died one day after his twenty-fourth birthday on December 3, 1885, when he was hung just outside the old Saguache County Courthouse.

One can only wonder what he thought as he mounted the gallows, and they put the noose around his neck. As they put the hood over his head, did he look at Honora and Katie with love or contempt? Did he think to himself, “Here’s your chance, girls. Make the best of it.”

And if they were equally guilty, what were their thoughts?

We’ll never know. And I could find no record of his last words, if any.

According to an article in Colorado Central magazine, the gallows was to be tripped by three men pulling on three separate ropes. Only one rope would actually trip the gallows. The signal to trip the gallows would have been a pistol shot from Sheriff Henderson’s pistol. When the shot came, two of the men didn’t pull their rope. the third did, and his was the rope that released the trap.

It is said he later regretted doing that.

In the course of my research, I found an interesting picture of an artifact of the hanging on of all places, eBay. It seems the Sheriff of the county sent out invites to attend the hanging.

An invite to a hanging. I’ve never even heard of something like this!

At least he didn’t request an RSVP.

So what happened to everyone else?

Honora, assuming she was Nano, seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth. I couldn’t find anything on her. And assuming my research is correct, I found a member of the Clements family named Kate who died in 1933, and is buried in Monte Vista, Colorado. Other members of the family are buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Saguache, Colorado.

Marshall, along with any secrets he took to the grave, are also buried at Hillside.

And so are Marshall’s victims, his brother Thomas Clements and his wife. They are buried within yards of Marshall’s grave.


Drillin’, Loadin’, and Firin’, by Gladys Sisemore. Postmarks and Places, by George Harlan