In his newest book, “Wicked Lewiston,” historian Steven Branting explores disturbing events from Lewiston’s first 100 years.
“All along in this series I had touched on some stories that were less than admirable among Lewiston residents. Some people began saying that they enjoyed these stories and I wondered what would happen if I did a whole book on some of the most heinous things or weird things that had happened,” said Branting, whose book is the fourth in a series on Lewiston history.
“Wicked Lewiston” contains tales of prostitution, unidentified bodies, suicide and murder for a score of reasons — from unrequited love to revenge to vigilante justice.
Many of the events shook the community and sometimes the nation. One of these is the story of a girl born in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley in 1886 under one name who made national headlines when she was found dead in Maryland in 1909 under another.
Anna Pearl was born to a 17-year-old unwed mother in the valley in 1886. Her mother soon married giving the girl the last name of Witz. However, her stepfather was murdered in a dispute. The girl and her mother moved to Minnesota where her mother remarried but the new couple found themselves unable to care for Anna. She was adopted in 1890 by a family that gave her a new name, Edith May Thompson. The family soon realized the child had a talent for music. She became a social darling and her fortunes rose higher when, because of a family connection, she was taken under the wing of an official in the McKinley administration. William and Ida McKinley would often seat her between them as they took their daily afternoon carriage ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, Branting writes.
But tragedy continued its pursuit. In 1906 her brother by adoption, Charles Thompson Jr., killed himself after she rejected his overtures. After a five-day romance, she married Gilbert Woodill, a prosperous Los Angeles automobile dealer in 1908.
The following year, on a trip to Maryland to visit family, Edith met a man who introduced himself as Emmett E. Roberts. He was actually Robert “Lame Bob” Emmett Eastman, a broker in his 40s who had absconded with millions and was wanted by the law. Eastman fixated on Edith and she disappeared. Her body was found weighted down in Chesapeake Bay half-eaten by crabs. Among the evidence was a comment Eastman had made about how long it might take a body eaten by crabs to disappear. News of her death ran in newspapers across the country, rivaling headlines that Robert Peary had reached the North Pole. A reporter delivered the news to her biological mother who was living in Ahsahka, Branting said.
A more horrific story in the chapter “She’s Come Undone” tells the story of Margaret Hardy who took revenge on her husband for his relationship with another woman.
In 1894, the couple moved from Moscow to a house in Lewiston where they lived with an unnamed black prostitute, according to Branting’s research. The wife soon discovered her husband was in a relationship with the woman.
“The wife wants to take revenge. She talks the city fathers into letting her adopt the mulatto child of this prostitute. Within a few days they OK’d the adoption,” Branting said.
The adoption was done over the objections of the child’s mother and Hardy returned to Moscow with the 2-year-old girl. She killed the child by giving her morphine and pouring carbolic acid on the body, trying to make it look like an accident. Except she had told neighbors she wanted to kill the girl.
Hardy was charged with second-degree murder because first-degree murder would have required hanging a woman, which was socially unacceptable at the time, Branting said. She was sentenced to life in prison at the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise where she was the only female inmate. Because of her questionable sanity she was later sent to a mental institution in Blackfoot, Idaho.
Her story remains incomplete.
“Because of HIPAA laws they can’t even release when she died,” Branding said. “After 120 years it’s still tied up.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Wicked Lewiston” by Steven Branting
When and Where:
Book launch: 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, And Books Too, 918 Sixth St., Clarkston
– 1:30-4 p.m. Oct. 17, Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, Lewiston
– 2-4 p.m. Oct. 24, Costco, Clarkston
– 1-5 p.m. Oct. 30, Hastings, Lewiston