I was looking at the Arizona History and Archives Division’s online collection of historic photos, and put in a search for Mesa, the town where I grew up. It’s grown huge over the last few decades, but before that Mesa was a dusty little town whose only claim to fame was having killed Santa Claus.
I was shocked, therefore, when the archive’s collection of pictures of Mesa turned up multiple photos of a man lynched by a mob in 1917. It said his name was Starr Daley, sometimes known as Van Ashmore.
The only further info Google turned up on “Starr Daley” was a photograph of Sheriff William Henry Wilky, with a note that “…his best efforts could not prevent the lynching of Starr Daley, an event that precipitated the reinstatement of the death penalty in Arizona.”
Something like that happened in Mesa, and I never heard about it?
I kept digging. Eventually it occurred to me to search on “Star Daley,” and I got the story. It was simple and sordid. James and Florence Gibson were traveling on the Apache Trail, and decided to stop and camp for the night. Starr Daley turned up on a lathered horse and asked for water, which they gave him. Then he shot James Gibson three times in the back with a rifle and spent the night raping Florence Gibson.
In the morning he forced Mrs. Gibson to come with him in the car. When it ran out of gas, Daley left Mrs. Gibson there and set out to find a gas station. Mrs. Gibson flagged down the first person she saw, a man named Phelps—probably one of ours; my Granny was a Phelps—who went and told Marshall Petyon. The Marshall arrested Daley before he got back to the car.
Daley was a talker. He told all about what he’d done. When word got out, several hundred indignant Mesans turned up at the jail. Sheriff Wilky threw Daly into a car and headed for the prison at Florence, AZ, but some ways out of town he was headed off by three or four hundred citizens who’d jumped into their own cars roared off after him. They took Daley back to the scene of the crime, stood him on a car, rigged a noose from a telephone pole, and drove the car away.
It’s like a bad western movie, only with different props.
A coroner’s jury from Florence ruled Daley’s death was “justifiable homicide, by hanging, at the hands of unknown parties.” It was the last officially recorded lynching in Arizona history. None of the sources explain why it prompted the reinstatement of the death penalty.