W.C. Lipps (center) is shown above with Mike Bubuly (left) of Bovil , Idaho and "Laughing Mike" (right) of Winchester, Idaho at the W.C. Lipps home in Westlake, Idaho. This is the only photo of W.C. Lipps known to exist. (Photo provided by Joanne Ono, of Pasco, Washington.)
By Jack Ward - Special Investigator for Official Detective Stories - October 1943
You could find a duplicate of the clue in every grocery store in the country-an Office of Price Administration chart showing the ration point values of canned food.
Yet, as Sheriff Bud Taylor stared at the sheet of paper, he felt more and more certain that it held, in part at least, the answer to the riddle of the mysterious slaying of John Gilbertz.
The chart had been found in Gilbertz lifeless hand as he lay sprawled on the floor of his general store in the small town of Ferdinand, Idaho.
At first the chart had not even been noticed, for it wasn't known at once that Gilbertz had been murdered. The two slugs from the high-powered rifle that tore through his back had not caused the wounds to bleed and the small holes in his clothes went unobserved in the initial flurry of excitement over his death.
Gilbertz' s seventeen-year old son Robert, who had found his father lying dead in the store on the morning of March 12, 1943, believed he had been seized by a heart attack.
The frantic youth called Doctor Wesley F. Orr in the neighboring city of Cottonwood, and until the Doctor came did his best to console his grief stricken mother.
Not until a complete examination of the body had been made in the parlor of Coroner Glen Allor in Cottonwood were the bullet wounds discovered. When they were revealed Coroner Allor immediately called Sheriff Taylor at the county seat in Grangeville to advise him that Ferdinand's generous-hearted shopkeeper had been slain.
Responding to the call, Sheriff Taylor and his chief deputy, Joe Eller drove to Cottonwood and phoned the Coroner.
"Shot through the back," Allor explained, pointing out the two wounds on the body. "The slugs went clear through him. They're probably still some place in the store."
"How long ago would you say he was killed?" Taylor asked.
Allor turned to Doctor Orr for the answer. Doctor Orr said: "A medical examination will reveal no more than facts related by Robert Gilbertz. I talked to the boy shortly after he found the body. He said he left his father at the store at 7:30 this morning and found him dead at 9:30. The murder could have taken place at any time during that two-hour period."
Deputy Eller grunted. "Plenty of time for the killer to make a clean get-away," he said.
Sheriff Taylor turned up his wrist to look at his watch. He found it was nearly noon.
"You fellows have any ideas?" he asked.
"Must have been robbery," the Coroner offered. "I've known Gilbertz for a long time. He was a quiet family man and I don't believe he had an enemy in the world."
Sheriff Taylor turned to Doctor Orr. "You knew Gilbertz?" He asked.
"Yes, and he was a fine man," said the Doctor. "I'm sure it must have been some bandit just going through town that attacked him. There isn't a person in Ferdinand or Cottonwood who would wish him harm."
Taylor scowled. "Maybe," he said doubtingly. "Usually stickups don't shoot their victims in the back. Most bandits' killings happen because the punk with the gun gets nervous and presses the trigger before he realizes what he is doing. And a rifle isn't a bandit gun.
"I'm only guessing it was a rifle." Said the Coroner, "because both slugs went all the way through him. You'll have to find either the lead or the shells in the store before you can tell for certain."
"Think we better send out an alarm on the killing right away?" Eller asked.
"I'll call Lewiston and let them get in touch with the State Police," Said Sheriff Taylor. "There isn't much they can do, though, until we've got some idea of the person we're looking for. You can't put out a dragnet until you know what you're dragging for."
The Sheriff made his long-distance call to the large city of Lewiston, eighty miles away, gave officials what he had killing of Gilbertz and said he would call in again as soon as he had more definite information.
Eight miles separate Cottonwood from Ferdinand. Sheriff Taylor and Eller covered the distance in a few minutes. They easily found the Gilbertz store, a brick structure which stands by itself on the left-hand side of the street entering town. Only a few other establishments are situated in the two blocks along the highway that forms the town.
Robert Gilbertz was in the store waiting to greet them. The news that his father had not died of the heart attack, but had been murdered, had already been broken to him. As soon as Sheriff Taylor entered the store, Robert held out his hand and said:
"I found these on the floor."
The things he exhibited were two rifle shells. Taylor read the primer end and saw that they were .44-40 caliber.
"Exactly where did you find them?" he asked.
Robert pointed out one spot near the counter and the second place near a shelf of canned goods toward the front of the store.
Taking an envelope from his pocket, Sheriff Taylor said to Robert Gilbertz and Eller:
"All three of us will sign this and put down the date. Then I'll seal the shells inside the envelope. These shells may be mighty important evidence if we find the gun that fired them, and I want the evidence in shape so that it will be admissible in court."
Robert, agreeing to the plan, placed his signature on the envelope as instructed. Then he asked:
"Can they tell if a certain gun fires a certain shell?"
"Just as surely as they can decipher finger-prints," said the Sheriff. "Every firing-pin leaves its own special mark when it strikes the primer. An expert can make photographs of them that can't be denied."
The red-eyed, grim faced youngster said with feeling:
"I hope you find the gun and the man who fired it."
"We'll do our best, Son," promised Taylor. "Now tell me everything you know about what happened."
"Father and I left the house at about 7:20 this morning," began Robert. "I walked with him as far as the store. It was just 7:30 when I left him in front of the door."
"Did you come inside with him?" asked Taylor.
"Where did you go?" the Sheriff probed.
"I've been thinking about joining either the Army or Navy. I went down this morning to see about enlisting. I got back to the store about 9:30."
"You found your father?"
"Was the front door open? Could anyone have walked in?"
"The front door was closed, but it wasn't locked," said the boy.
"Show me exactly where he was lying," instructed the Sheriff.
It was a severe ordeal for the youth to go though the gestures of again finding his father, but, controlling his emotions with remarkable courage, he demonstrated where his father had been sprawled on the floor at the rear of the store, almost in front of a potbellied coal store.
As Robert indicated the spot, Deputy Eller called out:
"Holy smoke! Look!"
The Deputy dropped to his knees and pointed to a hole in the floor. "I'll bet my shirt there is a slug in there!" he exclaimed.
"Dig it out," Taylor ordered. "And be careful you don't scratch it with your knife. It may still have the rifling from the gun barrel.
Cutting away the soft wood of the floor, Eller retrieved the slug. Once again Taylor had all three of them sign the envelope and mark the date before placing the slug inside.
"That slug being in the floor means the killer must have shot him once after he had fallen." Eller said.
Taylor nodded, "Stood right over him. It means he must have wanted to make awfully sure that he was dead."
"But why?" The boy cried out. "Why would anyone want to kill my father? He didn't have any enemies."
"We're coming to that," Taylor said. "Was the cash register robbed? How much money did your father usually bring with him to the store in the mornings?"
"He brought twenty dollars in change. It was in a canvas bank-sack. I found it lying on the drawer of the cash register."
"What?" Taylor blurted. "The money was still here!"
"We always leave the cash drawer open at night. We figure that if a robber breaks into the store and sees it is empty, he won't smash the register by trying to pry the drawer open."
"And you found the money still in the bag?"
"I did," replied Robert.
"That knocks out the stickup theory," said Eller. "If a bandit killed him, he'd sure stop long enough to grab the money, especially if it was all in the sack and ready for him."
"It means something else too," Taylor offered. "Gilbertz must have been killed within a few minutes, after he had entered the store. Apparently he hadn't had time to place the money in the drawer."
Taylor turned to the boy, "When you left your father, exactly where did you go?" he asked.
"I walked to the corner and caught the bus to Cottonwood."
"How soon did the bus come by?"
"In about five minutes."
"You didn't hear any shot while you were waiting?"
"No," replied Robert.
"Did you see anyone go into the store except your father?"
"No, I didn't. There wasn't anyone on the street."
"What did your father usually do when he came to the store in the morning" What kind of a routine did he go through" continued the Sheriff.
"Usually he put the money in the cash register. Next he tabulated the ration points for the preceding day. He found it too hard to do it at night, because of interruptions when customers came in. Father always made his check first thing in the morning."
"Was there any sign that he had started tabulating the points?'
"No, but when I found him he had one of the OPA ration charts in his hand."
"In that case he was probably about to start tabulating the points for yesterday's sales."
"Not necessarily," said Robert. "You don't have to use the chart to count up the points. The chart is just for customers to show them how many points different canned goods cost. When you make a tabulation of the points you count them all together without taking the individual items."
Sheriff Taylor thought this over for a moment and said, "The only reason he would have the chart then, would be to show it to a customer. Is that right?"
"Yes, correct. We kept it posted behind the counter but it was a little hard to read. If a person wanted to check over all the items, we simply took it down and handed it to him."
Sheriff Taylor walked over and picked up the chart from the counter. He looked at it for several minutes. The ration-point values for all canned goods were listed front of the sheet.
"This may be one of our big clues." Taylor said.
"That so?" Eller said. "Shucks, every store has got one of them."
"I know it." Taylor said.
"How do you figure it's a clue then" It hasn't got finger-prints on it, has it?" asked Eller.
"I doubt it. Even if it did have prints they've been smudged by handling and wouldn't mean anything."
"Then how come you think it is a clue?" asked Eller.
Taylor explained what he had in mind, reminding that Gilbertz had entered his store in the morning and his cash was still in the sack.
"Somebody must have come in the store at the time he was about to put the money in the register." Said the Sheriff. "Otherwise he would have sorted the money into the different compartments."
Eller nodded that he followed the reasoning.
"Now, here is the big point," Taylor continued. "Whoever came in the store was carrying the rifle that killed Gilbertz. You can't hide a rifle like you can a revolver. The gun must have been out in plain sight."
"I see what you're getting at." Eller cried. "Gilbertz knew the person who came in. That's why he wasn't afraid of the gun."
"Exactly," Taylor said. "He started to wait on the person. He showed him the OPA chart on canned goods. Apparently he walked to the rear of the store for some reason and turned his back on his customer. The killer lifted the gun and shot him while his back was turned."
Robert Gilbertz, who was listening to the officers going over their theory out loud, broke into the discussion.
"But why?" Why would anyone shot my father in the back?" he cried.
"I believe the person in question came in here with murder as his sole purpose. I believe he hated your father enough to want him dead. The thing we've got to find out is what motivated the hate."
"But that isn't possible." Robert exclaimed. "I've told you my father had no enemies. He couldn't---"
"Is your mother at home?" Taylor asked. "Do you think she'd be able to talk to us?"
"Yes, she's home, but she's terribly upset. I don't know whether she'll be able to answer questions."
"We'll try to be as little trouble as possible." Taylor promised.
As Taylor and Eller walked out of the store Taylor said, "I'll go over and talk to Mrs. Gilbertz. You wander around town and see what you can pick up. Find out all you can about Gilbertz.
"Okay", Eller said. "I'll see what I can find."
Questioning Mrs. Gilbertz was a difficult job for Taylor. The sorrowing widow was on the verge of collapse.
As Sheriff Taylor talked gently to her, he pressed home the point that it must have been an enemy of Gilbertz who came into the store and shot him.
"It couldn't be," Mrs. Gilbertz declared. "John didn't have an enemy in all these hills. He has carried all the ranchers on his books during hard times. He gave them credit until we didn't have any money of our own. Now that things are better they all paying their bills, but they don't forget that John saw them through the thin days."
"Did any trouble develop over these bills?" asked the Sheriff.
"John wouldn't make trouble to get his money" the widow answered. "He was just too good for his own good. He was always grub-staking some prospector who never brought in anything to pay for his food."
"Prospectors?" Taylor asked, suddenly alert for a new lead.
"Yes, prospectors," repeated Mrs. Gilbertz. "Some old fellows who look for gold in the hills. I don't think they ever find anything, but John just couldn't see them go hungry."
"Was there anything in his personal life," Taylor persisted. "Did her ever quarrel with any of the people around here?"
"No---"Mrs. Gilbertz said hesitantly. "Not with anyone around here, but with two men who came into the store about a week ago. They wanted John to handle some black-market meat."
At the words "black market," Taylor tensed. "Yes?" he prodded.
"I don't know what their visit was all about. I only know that John was angry. He mentioned it to me. He said he was sorry he hadn't called the police right away."
"What else did he say?"
"I don't know, really. Maybe Robert would be able to tell you more about it. All I remember John saying was that it was worse than being a traitor to handle black-market meat when the country was at war."
Sheriff Taylor, satisfied that he was heading for a strong lead, left Mrs. Gilbertz and went back to the store to ask the youth about the black-market meat incident.
"I wasn't here at the time," Robert explained. "Father told me that these men came in. He said they wanted him to sell meat to his friends without collecting the points and at rates higher than the OPA selling price. They told him people would be willing to pay more if they could get all the meat they wanted."
"Did they say where they would get the meat?" asked the Sheriff.
"I don't think they did, but we figured they probably had a truck and would just drive up to a herd and shoot a steer or two. We presumed they could dress the carcasses right away and throw the meat in the truck. Some of the ranchers have been losing steers from their grazing grounds."
"Do you have any idea who these men are?"
"I never saw them. What's more, I doubt if they'll be back here, because Father told them if they came around with meat again he would call the police."
"Did your father tell you what these men looked like?"
"No. I recall only that he was furious. He just told me that he had ordered them to get out and stay out. You see, Father was a loyal American citizen. If he had been younger he would have been in uniform. He was mighty proud that I planned to enter the armed services."
With Robert's added information stored in this brain, Sheriff Taylor left Gilbertz store and as he prepared to walk up the street he met Eller coming from the direction in which he was headed.
"Say," said "Eller, "that fellow Gilbertz was all right! I've never run across a guy who was better thought of by his fellow citizens. I'm telling you if we catch the killer we may have a lynching on our hands. Everybody around here thinks Gilbertz was just about tops."
"We may have a lead," Taylor confided in turn. "A really hot lead."
"Yeah?" Eller said. "Well, I'll bet it doesn't come form Gilbertz personal life. I've talked to a dozen people and they say he was straight as a string and would give you the shirt off his back."
"That's it---that's exactly it," Taylor said. "He may have been too honest; too patriotic. Looks like he turned down a black-market-meat proposition. Two guys came in to sell him the stuff and his answer was: "Get out!"
"You think those guys might have killed him?" asked Eller. "But why? He told them he wouldn't handle their stuff. Would that be a reason to kill him?"
"Anybody who handles "black market' produce during a war is the lowest, meanest type of criminal," Sheriff Taylor replied. "Black-market agents are far more dangerous than bootleggiers. They are not only trying to wreck the home front by upsetting all the plans to keep down inflation, but they are actually hindering the war effort by taking meat away from our boys on the fighting front."
"Yeah, I know about that," Eller said "But how does it tie in with Gilbertz being killed?"
"If you look at it right, it fits like a glove," explained Taylor. "These "black market' operators steal their stock and kill it at night. They skin the carcass right out in the field and throw the meat in a truck. They don't have refrigeration, so they have to get rid of it quick."
"And I guess plenty of it spoiled before they get rid of it," commented Eller. "It's almost like the poisonous booze they used to peddle during Prohibition."
Sheriff Taylor verified the Deputy's reasoning with a nod. "They could have driven up to Gilbertz store early in the morning with their load." He said. "He had already turned them down but they might have tried to persuade him in gangster fashion."
"I'm pretty sure Gilbertz wouldn't let threats bother him," Eller said. "I can tell you that much from the people I've talked to. He was the kind of fellow who would have stood off a whole gang of hoodlums single handed."
"Exactly," declared the Sheriff. "He had already threatened that he would call the police if they came back. These black-market operators had their truck loaded with slaughtered meat. They didn't dare let him call the police or they would have been caught red-handed."
"The rifle, that fits in too." Eller said. "I guess most of these black-market meat operators slaughter their cattle in the field with a rifle."
Sheriff Taylor, anxious to be on the move, said, "We've got work to do now. We'll contact all the stores in towns along the highway. We'll see if other places have been approached by these black-market thieves. If we can track them down the slug and shells we have may convict them."
"Providing we can grab them with the gun." Said Eller. "They might have gotten rid of it after killing Gilbertz.
"There's still a chance to nab them, even if they've disposed of the gun. Some of the farmers around here have missed beef cattle. These "meatleggers" shoot the stock. If we could locate steer head with a slug in it and the slug compares to the one that killed Gilbertz that will tie the thing up pretty closely."
"I heard a while back that Cam Peller has been missing cattle," said Eller. "His farm is only about six miles out. Suppose we stop by and see him."
"It's worth a try," said Taylor, bringing the conversation to a close. Ready for further action, he lingered only long enough to place a long distance call to Lewiston to let them know of the new development.
He told them; "We'll work south from Cottonwood and Ferdinand. You boys can come up this way from Lewiston. I'll keep in touch with you. If we get a definite description on either the black-market operators or their truck, we'll call you. If you get anything leave the message for me in my office at Grangeville."
Taylor and Eller's first stop was at Peller's ranch. They were informed there that Peller had been losing some beef.
"Don't know rightly how much until I have my roundup into this fall" the farmer said, "but I know dang well they stole at least one."
"How can you be positive until you get your herd in from the hills", queried Taylor.
"Because a yearling is missing. The animal was sick and I had it brought in to the lower pasture, where I arranged to have the vet come and look at it. When the vet got here, it was gone."
"Sick beef, eh?" Taylor said.
"Yeah," Peller answered. "I sure wouldn't want no steak off that beef until I knew what was wrong with it."
Taylor swore softly. "That's the way black-market rats operate" he said. "Most of the meat they sell is either tainted or sick. But now it looks like they've turned to murder.
"Murder?" exclaimed the rancher.
Again Taylor repeated the story of Gilbertz death. When he had finished he asked. "Did you find any track of the head of the sick beef" We figure there might be a rifle slug in it that we could compare with the shot that got Gilbertz."
"Nope, couldn't find any trace of it," Peller replied. "There's plenty of space around here to hide it though. I'll keep my eyes open." With a laugh he added. "I sure figured I had caught one of the rustlers this morning."
"How was that?" asked Taylor.
"I saw a fellow crossing the pasture with a rifle. I took out after him."
"It turned out to be Bill Behler", said the rancher. "He's a prospector. He's got a cabin back in the hills. We hardly ever see him. He told me he had been to town to get some supplies. I guess he only comes out about once a year or so.
"You know him well?"
"As well as anybody, I guess. He's a peculiar bird. Kind of young, but he sticks by himself up in the hills hunting for gold. He's never hit it any yet, but every time you see him he's right on the verge of locating a big claim."
"Do you think Behler could be mixed up with the black-market guys?" asked the Sheriff. "Could he be locating the cattle for them."
"Not Bill", Peller interrupted. "He's only interested in getting gold in the natural state right out of the ground. You could offer him a hundred dollars a day to work and he'd still look for gold. I've tried to hire him a couple of times. He's a prospector and you couldn't get him to do anything else."
"They're a peculiar breed", agreed Eller. "It isn't what the gold is worth that interests them--It's the thrill of finding it. To them it's more of a hobby than work."
Taylor said. "I'd appreciate it if you'd try to locate the head of that yearling. Call me right away if you find it. The bullet will mean a lot to our case."
"I'm riding out that way this afternoon." Peller said. "If I come across anything I'll sure call you."
Sheriff Taylor and Eller then went back to their office in Grangeville. Shortly after their arrival, the telephone jangled. Eller picked it up. After a moment he said:
"It's for you. Gilbertz kid is calling. He says he discovered something else in the store."
Sheriff Taylor took the phone hurriedly.
"I've been checking in the store," Robert announced, "and I am pretty certain that some of our canned goods are missing."
"Yes?" Taylor remarked. "How much?"
"I can't tell exactly. But whenever we are low on any item Father always put down a note to reorder. The shelves have been cleaned of canned beans and several kinds of canned meats and there isn't any note about reordering. I thought maybe the person who killed him might have taken them."
"How many cans would you say were missing?" asked Taylor."
"Perhaps a dozen cans of pork-and-beans and a dozen cans of spiced ham. I don't know about the rest, because there are still some cans on the shelf."
"I don't suppose there is any way of identifying one can of goods from another. Can you tell whether it comes from your store of any other store?"
"Yes, there is a way of telling," advised Robert. "We mark the top of the can in a red crayon for the price of the item in money. There's a mark in blue crayon for the price in ration points. I think I could identify our marks from the marks of another store."
"Good." Taylor cried. "That may be a big help."
Concluding his talk with Robert Gilbertz, Taylor explained the new development to Eller.
"That's nuts," Eller spluttered. "Why would anybody kill Gilbertz to steal a few cans of food and then pass up a sack full of money on the cash register?"
"The canned goods evidently were more valuable than the money to the murderer," Taylor said.
Eller sniffed. "With money you can buy all the canned goods you want," He said.
"Not without ration points," reminded Taylor.
"But the rationing board will give you ration points." Argued Eller. "There's plenty enough points in a book to get by. Why, heck we have food points left over all the time, especially now when fresh vegetables are starting to come in."
"It ties in with the OPA ration chart in Gilbertz hand when he was killed," Taylor said, almost to himself. He sat for several minutes staring out the window as he turned the facts over in his mind.
Eller said, "Could it be those black-market-meat guys. They probably peddle non-rationed canned goods along with their illegal meat."
"No, I don't think so. They would have cleaned out the store. They'd never have stopped with a few dozen cans. It would have to be somebody who needed the canned food desperately-desperately enough to kill for it."
"There isn't anyone like that," said Eller. "This isn't Germany.
There is still enough food to go around for everybody. We're rationed but there is still plenty!"
"Wait a minute." Taylor cried. "I think that's the answer."
Eller looked surprised. "What's the answer" he asked.
"The killer didn't have a ration book. He couldn't get one-that's why he had to kill."
"Why couldn't he get one? All you have to do is apply to the board and get more."
Sheriff Taylor wasn't listening to Eller. Once more he was in deep thought. At length he said:
"You heard Peller mention that prospector, Bill Behler. Have you ever seen him?"
"A couple of times. He only gets in to town about once a year."
"How old is he?"
"Not very old. He's plenty peculiar, but I'd say he's around thirty-five."
"That fits," Sheriff Taylor said.
"What fits?" Eller snapped. "Are you talking to yourself, or am I still in on this?"
Taylor ignored the jibe. "Where does Behler have his shack up in the mountains?" he asked.
"It is out of Cottonwood some place.
Taylor picked up the telephone. He told the operator that he wanted to talk to the Selective Service Draft Board in Cottonwood. After Taylor was connected it took almost a quarter of an hour to complete the call and get the information he wanted.
When he finished he said to Eller, "Do you see it now? Bill Behler is only thirty-five. He should be registered with his Draft Board. They have a record that he was in the Army and discharged-but he hasn't reported in for over a year."
"What's that got to do with rationing?" asked Eller.
"He probably didn't go to his Rationing Board for fear they would report him to his Draft Board. It's all adding up very nicely. He went to Gilbertz store and tried to get supplies to keep him going in the mountains. "This situation explains a lot of things: for instance, why Gilbertz wasn't afraid of the man who came into his store with a rifle. He knew Behler."
"It's plain Gilbertz wouldn't give him the canned goods without ration points," commented Eller. "We know Gilbertz was dead against anything that smelled of black market. He would have been willing to trust him for the money but not for the ration points."
"That's what it looks like to me. We'll go up and find Behler right away. We can check his gun and what's more, any canned goods he has on hand. If the particular markings from Gilbertz store appear on the cans that's about all we'll need to clinch this case."
"There are some fellows in town who know right where his cabin is located," said Eller. "I've heard them say they came across it while hunting. I'll get them and we can get going."
When word got around Grangeville that Sheriff Taylor and Eller were going to arrest Behler for the murder of Gilbertz, a dozen men joined the posse.
They drove from Cottonwood out toward Westlake. Following the directions of a couple of hunters who had seen Behler's cabin, they parked their cars and hiked into the hills.
They came upon Behler's cabin, a one-room frame shack, in a gulch.
"You fellows better stay back here out of range," Taylor warned members of the posse. "We know he's armed and there's no telling what he might do. I'm going up and ask him to come out."
Taylor stepped out in the open. A voice from inside the shack called:
"Who are you and what do you want?"
"I am the Sheriff," Taylor shouted. "I want to talk to you."
"I ain't talking to nobody. Get back to town or I'll kill you."
"We've got you surrounded," Taylor cried. "There's no use."
A shot whined over Taylor's head. He dropped to the ground and made his way back out of range on his stomach. "He's going to shoot it out," Taylor said.
"We can rush him," Eller cried. "We can all come on from different sides and---"
"No. Somebody will get killed." Taylor objected. "I want him, but I don't want anybody killed to get him. I think we can force him out."
"How?" asked Eller.
"There's a blind side of the shack on the far corner. The bluff runs up pretty close to it. I'll get out here in the open a bit and talk to him. I'll keep him occupied and you sneak up on the blind side and throw something on it that will start the shack on fire."
"There isn't anything around here that will burn enough."
"We'll get some gasoline-soaked rags from the car," said Taylor. "We aren't in any hurry and we can keep the place covered until you get back."
Eller made the trip back to the car and returned with a ball of gasoline soaked rags. As Eller sneaked around to the blind side of the shack, Sheriff Taylor exposed himself to Behler in the cabin.
Behler took a quick shot and Taylor flopped to the ground. He talked to Behler, keeping his attention on him as Eller edged close enough to the shack to light the rags and toss them on the roof.
In a few minutes the shack was blazing.
Behler stayed inside the flaming shack until it seemed he would be burned alive. Only as the roof was ready to cave in did he stagger out blinded by smoke. He was quickly overpowered by the officers.
Sheriff Taylor dashed inside the flaming cabin and came out with Behler's gun and several cans of food. It was the evidence her would have to have.
In jail at Grangeville, Behler denied killing Gilbertz until confronted with the evidence that the shells found in Gilbertz store had been fired by his gun and the canned goods in his cabin had come from the shop's shelves. The crayon marks proved it.
Behler made a complete confession when he saw it was no use to hold out longer. He said that he had entered Gilbertz store and asked for a supply of food because Gilbertz had often staked him in the past when he had no money.
"He was willing to let me have the supplies on credit but insisted I have the ration points," Behler said. "I pretended I didn't know what he meant by ration points and he took a lot of time explaining them to me. He got out his chart and showed me the set-up and I had to tell I couldn't get a ration book.
"He wanted to know why and I told him that I had been discharged from the Army and didn't want to go back. I was keeping out of sight to dodge my Draft Board. He got sore then and began calling me names. He said he wouldn't give me supplies under any conditions. He said a man who was too yellow to fight for his country didn't deserve to eat it's food.
"I got sore then, too. He was standing with his back to me and I shot him. I walked over to where he fell. I had to make sure he was dead so he wouldn't tell who shot him, so I let him have it again.
"I picked up as much grub as I could carry and walked back to my cabin. It's too bad for Gilbertz, he was always nice to me and grubstaked me many times, but I had to have the rationed grub and I didn't want to get in the Army again."
Behler was charged with murder by Prosecutor William L. Campbell. He was tried before Judge Miles S. Johnson, found guilty, and sentenced to death by the noose.
The name Peller is fictitious to protect a person not involved in the crime.
1. Kristin Frish, of Cottonwood, Idaho provided this article from the October 1943 Official Detective Magazine.
2. Kristin obtained this article from Shelly Kuther, a famous Idaho Historian.
3. The .44-40 rifle used in the murder was owned by William C. Lipps.
4. William C. Lipps was in the hospital in Grangeville at the time of the crime.
5. Bill testified at the Behler murder trial that his rifle had been stolen from his house in Westlake.
6. Behler testified that he had "borrowed" the rifle from Bill.
7. Behler's death sentence was later suspended with the use of an insanity plea.
8. Clarence Lipp's son, Jerry Lipps, actually met Bill Behler at the Boise State Prison in the 70's.
9. The trial and appeal process are well documented in Idaho newspapers.
10. The case, "Behler vs. the State of Idaho" is in the Idaho Law Review.
11. The location of the W.C. Lipps .44-40 Rifle used in the Gilbertz murder has not been discovered.