San Antonio’s 1911 Trial of the Century

David C Lewis wrote this article. His author page and a link to purchase his book on the San Saba Treasure is here

This article was previously published in Texas Times magazine.

When it comes to crimes both committed and tried in San Antonio, the biggest one in recent memory might be of a murder trial in 1982, of a defendant charged with a 1979 murder. What was special about that one murder, in a year when over 2,000 Texans were murdered, was that the victim was a Federal Judge named John Wood, Jr, killed by a hit man hired by a crime family from El Paso.

But about seventy years earlier in San Antonio, in 1911, there was another “trial of the century,” now long forgotten. It too involved a member of the legal profession, two of them actually, and one of them a judge, of sorts.

The Actors

The defendant was Julius Norton. Julius was born in Minnesota in 1869 to an American father and a Canadian mother. His father died in an accident when Julius was young, and he later took the name of his stepfather. The family moved to San Antonio in the late 1800’s. Julius and his brother went to work for the railroad, and Julius worked his way up to engineer. He was ambitious and was taken under the wing of an English-born attorney named James Routledge, who encouraged him to study law. That he did, and he became a member of the bar in 1896 and joined Routledge’s firm. He made good money, building a house on Helena Street the next year.

The victim was Clive Shook. Born into a prominent San Antonio family in 1861, the son of the attorney Colonel John Shook and brother to Bexar County Judge Phil Shook. Clive was an attorney as well, and had served as the assistant county attorney. By all accounts, when he was sober, he was a fine fellow. But after drinking a bit too much, well, sometimes he was not such a fine fellow anymore. And he liked to drink.

8:30PM at the Stock Exchange Saloon on Dolorosa Street

On June 12, 1909, a Saturday, Clive had gone to a ball game, where he had a drink, and then another. A Deputy Sheriff, Stevens, had been “assigned” to keep him out of trouble by getting him home to sleep it off. It did not go as planned. Clive stopped at a saloon for another drink. For whatever reason, Clive was armed that day, with a .38 caliber Colt double action revolver. It could be that he was in danger of retribution while sober of whatever bad behavior he had engaged in while drunk.

It just so happened that Julius was armed as well. With a side arm as unique as he, a Colt 1905 Semi-Automatic. That was an earlier, less refined version of the later Colt model that the War Department would adopt in 1911 and use for the better part of the century. Like the eventual GI issue sidearm, it was 45 caliber and used a magazine that could hold a maximum of seven rounds. Julius had made a lot of money as an attorney, and he was known to make it however he could within the limits of the law. One case prior to this incident left some bad feelings, and he received death threats, thus the carrying of a pistol for protection.

Julius was in the Stock Exchange Saloon, not far from the Bexar Courthouse, with a group of several men, including a deputy constable named Joe Morales. Clive walked up to the bar and shook hands with Julius. Julius invited him to have a drink, which Clive accepted. While drinking, Clive looked around and saw the proprietor of the bar, Fred Tolle, sitting by himself at a table. Clive asked Fred to join them. Fred declined, saying that he was under the care of a physician and had not had a drink in over a month, but eventually went to the bar and had a soda.

All seemed well, but minutes later Clive began to berate Fred, apparently after deciding that he should have taken offense at Fred’s slowness at joining them at the bar. Clive’s anger got the better of him. He berated Fred some more and put his hand on his revolver’s handle while threatening him and challenging him to a duel. He calmed down, but a moment later he challenged Fred to a bare-knuckle fight. Julius turned to Clive and said “Good God Clive, are you hell bent on killing somebody? Stop this as you are getting madder and madder. Cut it out.” In reply Clive struck Julius in the face, knocking his hat over the bar. They both went for their guns. But instead of firing them, they used them as clubs to bludgeon the other over the head. The fight went out onto the sidewalk, with the two men still beating each other over the head with their pistols. Then a shot rang out, and Clive fell. Constable Morales did not see exactly what had happened, but Clive had been shot and Julius had a gun in his hand. Morales placed Julius under arrest. Clive was carried to the nearby Southern Drug Store for first aid treatment by a doctor before being taken by ambulance to the Santa Rosa Hospital.

Julius was taken to the county jail and given a cot in the front room while his scalp wounds were attended to by a doctor. To a San Antonio Light and Gazette reporter who visited Julius in jail, he said “The whole thing is pretty much blank to me. My mind is not clear as to what just happened, and those that were there saw it can tell more than I can. I will only say I was acting as a peace maker. I was carrying an automatic pistol. They took it away from me. It shoots seven times. I don’t think any cartridges will be found discharged.” He received several visitors but asked his wife to stay home. He repeatedly asked about Clive’s condition. The Sheriff was later criticized for not putting Julius, a man of means, in a common jail cell right away.

Newspaper accounts at the time noted that Clive had been shot twice, as he had two large caliber bullet wounds in his head. In the days that followed, Clive died, having never regained consciousness. Julius was then charged with murder and placed in a cell. An autopsy was done on Clive and it was discovered that he had suffered not two gun shots, but one. A single bullet entered from the right side of the head and exited out the front. The bullet was never found.

While awaiting trial, Norton made bail and resumed the practice of law. Clive’s widow filed a civil suit against Norton. Everyone knew it would be a big trial and they were not disappointed, but such things take time. It would take more than two years for the case to make it to trial.

The Trial

Judge Dwyer presided over the trial, which began selecting jurors on November 21, 1911, a Tuesday. The selection was complete the end of Wednesday. The jury included a well driller, carpenters, a grocery, farmers, a blacksmith, retirees, and a real estate agent. After jury selection a man named Joe Wright was fined $100 contempt of court for attempted jury tampering. If Wright was not connected to the Norton defense it would have been odd, as the defense team defended Wright in the contempt hearings. The defense kept him out of jail, but the fine stood.

The Prosecution included seven lawyers: District Attorney Charles Baker, Assistant District Attorney J. Carl, and lawyers Carlos Bee, C. Davies, Judge Linden, and two Shook relatives, his father John Shook and his brother-in-law T. Vanderhoven. The prosecution plan seemed simple enough. It was undisputed that Clive and Julius were fighting, that Julius had a gun in his hand, and Clive was shot in the head. There was no evidence of malice or premeditation on the part of Julius, so they would try to convict on manslaughter. The obvious defense to manslaughter would be self-defense. So the focus of the prosecution would be to defeat the case for self-defense.

The Defense had five attorneys, not counting Norton: James Routledge, Leo Tarleton, Ed Haltom, Theo Simmang, and Thomas Lewis (a Houston attorney). They had their own ideas on how to defeat the manslaughter charge.

The case began on Thursday morning. The prosecution called nine witnesses. It started with a doctor present at the autopsy, who was mainly on the stand to confirm that the victim died of a bullet to the head. Friday, the second day of the trial, the prosecution called Charles McCabe, the former Chief of Police to the stand, and probably wish they had not. McCabe testified that when he examined it the night of the shooting, he did not think Norton’s gun had been fired in a while, and that there were seven cartridges in the gun, consistent with inserting a full magazine and chambering one round. He also testified that he and several other officers made a search of the sidewalk and gutter but failed to find a spent cartridge case, as would have been ejected from a fired semi-automatic pistol. Shook’s gun, a revolver, held no discharged cartridge casings in it. Other witnesses came forward claiming that only Norton had his gun drawn, and that Shook’s revolver was still in his hip pocket when he fell. If Shook did not have his gun out, it would go against making a case for self-defense.

The prosecution’s last witness stated that he was across the street when Shook was shot, but as the shot rang out a passing streetcar obstructed his view, so he did not see Norton firing his pistol. The prosecution rested Friday just before three o’clock. They seemed to make their open and shut case: Julius Norton was fighting with Clive Shook, Julius had a gun in his hand, and Clive was shot during the fight. A gap in the testimony was that no witness actually saw Norton’s gun go off, none except for a Juan Piaz, whose testimony was successfully impeached when witnesses testified that Piaz had told them that he was nowhere near the saloon the night on the murder. The alleged murder weapon itself had little to say. Being a semi-automatic pistol with a seven-round magazine, it would have been possible to load a round into the chamber, then remove and top off the magazine and reinsert it. So it was possible that Norton fired one round, leaving seven rounds in the handgun. But a crack in the prosecution case was McCabe’s testimony was that the gun had not fired recently in his opinion, and that no ejected case was found.

In shooting cases like this, there are a few possible defenses. One is that the shooting was an accident—to bolster that would be that the Colt model 1905 was a single action semi-automatic with no safety. Not very safe to carry while loaded, which it was. Another approach would be that it was self-defense, as being pistol whipped about the head by a man with known anger management issues surely could lead to grave bodily harm. But self-defense is a risky legal defense, as it requires a confession to the killing, and then an attempt to justify the killing by checking several boxes of common law requirements. A risky proposition, as there could be a hair’s breadth between self-defense and manslaughter and the prosecution had done all it could to block that option by claiming that Shook had never drawn his gun, and the prosecution would try to keep testimony of Clive’s tendency to violent behavior while drunk from the jury. Or the defense could resort to another defense, one that would surprise the prosecution.

After the prosecution rested that Friday, the first witness for the defense was Joe Hopwood, a local newspaper reporter who was in the saloon during the fight. Hopwood had made a statement at an inquest a couple of days after the shooting. The defense wanted to read from it and the prosecution objected as strongly as they could. Both sides approached the bench and argued vigorously for a full hour. The judge finally ruled that as the prosecution had mentioned the document earlier, it was fair game for the defense to do with as it pleased. Hopwood’s written statement was read, and it was that Norton had tried to calm things down but Shook started the fight, Shook went for his gun, and the fight went outside. Then after a shot rang out, Norton staggered back into the establishment, laid his pistol on the bar, and said “Boys, Shook just shot me and please don’t let him shoot me again. You all saw how it was done.” He also said that the shot had not come from inside the saloon. If true, it would seem that Norton mistook a blow to his head as a glancing shot when he heard a gun fire, which he assumed to have been Shook’s gun.

Later that day, the judge ruled against the prosecution again, that the Defense could introduce testimony as to the past conduct of Shook, of which Norton would have been aware. The Prosecution claimed that such testimony was prejudicial and thus inadmissible. Linden, speaking for the prosecution, spent one hour and forty minutes making the case against admitting such evidence. Lewis, the Houston attorney, and Tarleton, both for the defense, argued to the contrary, briefly, and successfully. The judge announced his ruling and Bee, speaking for the Prosecution, said “Then all I have to say is that God save this state if this the law of this state, and God save us from the assassin’s bullet.”

The prosecution had lost badly on Friday afternoon, but it was on Monday the defense got down to business. A Dallas real estate man named Yoakum was called to the stand and testified, to gasps from the gallery, that a stout man, in shirt sleeves, with a cane, and wearing a white felt stockman’s hat, was the one who shot Shook. Yoakum had left the Southern Hotel and was walking towards the saloon when the said man, standing in the saloon door, pulled a pistol and fired. Shook fell, and the murderer stepped over the body then ran to the west towards South Flores Street. Yoakum did not know the man, but said he saw him again a few weeks later standing in front of the Iron Front Saloon on East Houston Street. On cross-examination Davies asked the obvious question, why he had not come forward with that testimony in 1909. He replied that he had not wished to be involved but had mentioned it to Julius Norton after he become one of his clients. The next witness for the defense, a Milan County man named Hobbs, gave essentially the same testimony. On cross-examination he claimed to have recounted what he witnessed to the officers on duty in a police station that same night. Thirteen other witnesses for the defense gave testimony that day, mainly corroborating that it was Shook who started the fight, that his gun was drawn, and that it was covered in blood from bludgeoning Julius. His bad behavior while drunk was recounted, including an incident when he beat two working class Hispanics in a bar just because they were there. Instead of saying that the shooting was accidental and pleading for mercy, or saying that the shooting was in self-defense, the argument was that some unknown man, standing only feet away from the scuffle, was the murderer.

Tuesday was even more dramatic, with specific suspects in the shooting being identified by various defense witnesses. One of them, identified by Yoakum, was in Denison, Texas, but his wife was town and provided an alibi. Ike Walker, an African American special officer who had worked for the Sheriff in 1909, testified that he saw the owner of the saloon (Fred Tolle, apparently) fire the shot, but instead of running down the street the shooter went back into the saloon. He testified that he told the Sheriff about it the next morning. It was forwarded to a grand jury, but nothing came of it. Screaming at the witness, the District Attorney accused Ike of being paid for his testimony. Another witness claimed a pistol flash came from within the saloon and that Norton had not fired. Yet another witness, a self-described moonshiner from Tennessee, said the same thing. Another witness claimed that Shook had pulled a gun in another saloon at an earlier date. After the rapid succession of witnesses that day, in a surprise move, the defense rested. Norton was never called to the stand. It was a cold day in San Antonio, but that did not deter the crowds outside and inside the court room that was packed to capacity. Julius was remarked to be no more concerned about the case than another man in the court room, chatting pleasantly with his counsel and people in the gallery.

It may have been another day for Norton, but the heated testimony and cross-examination was so grueling that day that a juror by the name of George Neutze suffered a mental breakdown. George was taken to a sanitarium, put under the care of a doctor, and under the protection of a deputy. The Judge gave until Friday for George to recover or for a mistrial to be declared. The jury had hoped to be in their homes in time for Thanksgiving dinner the following day, but instead remained sequestered. They were escorted the next day to a restaurant for turkey and trimmings.

On Friday morning George was declared fit to serve, so the trail resumed, with each side given five hours each to make their case. The closing arguments lasted the rest of Friday, and into Saturday. Various lawyers from each side spoke, with Thomas Lewis speaking for an hour and a half for the defense. The case had taken longer than it should have, and the court needed to get back on schedule. Late in the day on Saturday the closing arguments were complete. At fifteen minutes before 5 o’clock Judge Dwyer finished reading his charge to the jury. It covered all the bases: self-defense, manslaughter, an accident, or that Norton had not shot Shook at all. The jury went to deliberate. At seven minutes after 5 o’clock they had reached a verdict. The court clerk read the verdict out loud: innocent of all charges.

Julius Norton was immediately surrounded by friends and associates who congratulated him. Julius walked out, a free man, across the street to the Routledge law office where yet more people congratulated him.

Clive’s father sat motionless after the verdict. Only he knew his thoughts. Perhaps he could see the rationale of the jury, but if Norton really was innocent, it meant that two and a half years had passed since another man shot his son. And that far in the past, the trail would be too cold to investigate, and the killing would likely never be solved. And indeed, it never was.

The Aftermath

To some observers Julius Norton, and his legal team, had defeated a serious felony charge with extraordinary legal skill, and maybe with a little chicanery, against a larger team of older attorneys, the best the District Attorney could muster. They might admire the skill of the lawyers, but what of make of the defendant whose innocence may have been a legal victory but a moral outrage? A jury found him not guilty, but was he? How many people looked past the obvious open and shut nature of the case and into the details? Julius Norton left the Routledge law practice in 1912, the only place he had ever worked as a lawyer. Perhaps he went out on his own so as not to sully the reputation of the practice. In 1912 the widow of Clive Shook abandoned the $25,000 wrongful death suit she had filed. She lived another forty-two years and never remarried. To Norton it was back to life as normal.

Or would there ever be a normal again? What changed in Norton between the killing in 1909 and the trial in 1911? What was Julius doing while waiting for trial, and what did that forbode? Waiting years for a trial that could destroy everything he worked for and sent him to prison for decades had to be difficult. What to do for a distraction? Enter the Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie. While writing the San Saba Treasure chapter in Coronado’s Children in the late 1920’s he interviewed a San Antonio resident and treasure hunter named William Longworth. Longworth had a lease on an alleged mine/treasure site in Menard County. He needed pumps to remove the water flooding a cave. It just so happened that Julius Norton, the engineer turned lawyer, had taken out a patent on a pump he designed. According to the interview notes made by Dobie, upon asking Julius about the pumps to pump out the cave/mine, Norton exclaimed that he had looked for that mine himself in 1911. The trial being so late in the year, the search must have been earlier in 1911. How did he come to look for the mine in 1911? In 1910 he was in a court session that also involved J.W. Ellis from Menard, and Ellis knew something about the lost San Saba Mine legend. Perhaps it was through a conversation with Ellis that Julius first went treasure hunting around Menard. We don’t know if the pump designed in the patent was ever made, or ever used at the mine site. But what is known is that Julius developed an obsession with the treasure legend. Just as businessmen go big game hunting on private ranches today around Menard, and throughout the Hill Country, to get away from it all, maybe treasure hunting around that same area was how Norton got away from much more than they ever had to get away from. Julius became partners with Longworth and eventually took full ownership of the lease. He had a team of men working the site, known as the “egg shaped basin” near a dry creek west of town. Eighteen years after Julius’s exoneration, he proposed to his wife that he retire from law and they move to Menard to work the mine site full time. His wife refused. In a rage, Julius exclaimed that he was going there and he was not going to come back until he found it. His wife remarked that she expected she would never see him again. He moved to the mine site in 1930 and lived next the cave in a tin shack he built. He was the man mentioned by J. Frank Dobie as the one attempting to pump the water out of the cave at the end of the San Saba chapter of Coronado’s Children.

Norton was joined by another former San Antonian, an investor and cook, named Martha Learn, but going by the name of Wenonah, popularly called Princess Wenonah by the Menard locals. For years she had assumed the name Wenonah while doing a vaudeville rattlesnake dance. Locally he was known as “Judge” Norton. He was never a judge over a court, but often served as an election judge in San Antonio. He is remembered for driving a large black touring car with a large black dog named Ranger as his constant companion. He was tight lipped about what was going on at the mine site. His funds eventually grew low, and he died alone at the site under unusual circumstances in 1943, 32 years to the day when the defense rested in his trial.

His son, his only child, was living in Chicago at the time, and after learning of his father’s death he drove his family to Menard. He arranged for a tombstone and a funeral Mass for his father, and then continued his father’s work at the mine site. He spent all he had on the project, and was once found near death in the cave, apparently from bad air. His health broken, he returned to the family home on Helena Street in San Antonio, the house his father had built in 1897. He sold the lease to a treasure hunter for a small amount, and then passed away in 1961. His passing was one year after his stepmother died. And as she predicted, she never did see her husband again after he left their house in San Antonio to find the treasure 31 years earlier.

David C Lewis wrote this article. His author page and a link to purchase his book on the San Saba Treasure is here