What Goes Up…

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Lincoln Hotel

January 1903

Based upon his Theory of Universal Gravitation, Sir Issac Newton conducted a “thought experiment” that he dubbed Newton’s Cannonball.  In his experiment, Newton demonstrated that in most cases what goes up, must come down – unless the missile is traveling fast enough to either leave Earth entirely and head for deep space, or to pick up enough speed to begin its own orbit around the planet. There is another possibility that was not covered in Newton’s experiment; a projectile hurtling toward the heavens can be prevented from continuing its flight by a sufficiently dense object or, as in this tale, by the forehead of Mr. J.F. Jones.

The second hour of January 1, 1903 had just begun, and New Year’s Eve revelers were still celebrating in the streets of the city.  Three friends;  J.F. Jones, S.M. Schoonover, and Elsie Stahl were standing on an upper floor balcony of the Lincoln Hotel, enjoying each other’s company as well as the sights and sounds of nearby parties. They were unaware that beneath them on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, there were three young men; Lauren Hanna, John G. Todd, and W.W. Burton, who had decided to ring in the New Year by sending a fusillade of bullets into space. Todd and Burton were firing blanks, but Hanna’s pistol was loaded with live rounds.

The young men may have been drinking, or perhaps they were just too dumb to comprehend the consequences of blindly firing weapons above their heads into the pitch black sky. The initial burst of gunfire apparently did no harm, but the second round from Lauren Hanna’s gun found its trajectory impeded, and any dreams J.F. Jones may have had for the future died with him when a stray bullet lodged in his brain.

Moments after the shooting, Schoonover came running out of the hotel to inform the young men that their carelessness had resulted in a death. Todd stayed put, but cohorts Hanna and Burton slunk down Second Street toward Broadway, emptying their guns of ammunition as they went. Hanna may as well have left a trail of breadcrumbs to the door of his workplace, the Sunset Telephone Company, because that’s where the last of the discarded bullets was found. Detectives Flammer, Quinn, and Churchill quickly located Hanna, who soon confessed to the shooting. He was accused of involuntary manslaughter, and his bail was set at $2000 [$47,981.55 USD 2008].

The cops did some digging into Hanna’s life and uncovered a few unsavory details about him, which were then reported by the Los Angeles Times; “Hanna’s case is not strengthened any, nor public sympathy increased to any great extent, by the discovery of the police that Hanna had recently deserted his wife and baby at Santa Ana, and was living at a hotel in this city with another woman”.

Hanna acquittedFortunately for the accused, he was “…something of a cousin to the renowned Senator Marcus”. The esteemed senator from Ohio provided money for Lauren’s defense fund. Hanna was represented at trial by Charles S. McKelvey, Esq., and the firm of Davis & Rush.  Experts hired by the defense testified that a bullet fragment removed from Jones’ brain at autopsy could have come from a .22 caliber pistol. Hanna’s gun was a .32 caliber.

Were the Senator’s money and power merely coincidental in winning an acquittal for Lauren? We’ll never know. In any case, Judge Smith felt that there was enough reasonable doubt to instruct the jury to acquit Lauren Hanna.

J.F. Jones would be buried in his hometown of Greenville, Texas.

 

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