Friday, September 22, 2017

Gaston Means Takes the Stand in Murder Trial, 1917

“Gaston Means Takes the Stand in His Own Behalf,” from the Monroe Journal, Dec. 7, 1917

With Remarkable Demeanor He Tells of His Relations With the Late Mrs. King…His Story a Long One

Concord, Dec. 6—For practically six hours today Gaston B. Means occupied the stand in his trial on charge of the murder of Mrs. Maude A. King and told the jury his story of his relations with the woman for whose death the state is holding him responsible—his services as her business agent, his various financial transactions in which her money was involved, including his unsuccessful cotton speculation—and when court adjourned for the night his narrative apparently had not approached the chapter in which he will give his version of the fatal shooting and the circumstances directly connected with her death.

Apparently his direct examination was not nearly completed today. His cross-examination is expected to consume fully as much time as the direct and more time will be used in redirect and re-cross examination. He is expected to occupy the stand practically all day tomorrow. It is probable that all of Saturday will be taken up with the introduction of other witnesses, which would leave the argument and the jury’s consideration of the evidence for next week.

The defendant’s demeanor on the stand was hardly less remarkable than the story he told today. His countenance and his manner of speaking—every movement of his body—bespeaking confidence, he literally addressed the jurymen of his boyhood community in tones and accents that made his troy clear to the audience of his former homefolk—with the air of a public speaker supremely confidence of his hearer’s approval of the cause he presents. And it was a wonderful story he told to the farmer-millworker jury—a story involving the intricacies of high finance, of stocks, bonds and securities, of his contact with metropolitan bankers and government officials and of international secrets and plots involving the destinies of more than half the world.

Explains Opening of Letter

When his narrative was interrupted by adjournment it had just reached the events of last July and he had begun to explain some letters bearing his signature which the state has placed in the record as damning evidence against him. The letter to his brother, Afton Means, approving the latter’s action in opening and forwarding to him a telegram addressed to Mrs. King and telling the latter to send all mail received for her and her mother and sister, Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Gary C. Melvin, to the widow and not to let anyone know there whereabouts was read and explained to his apparent satisfaction. The witness was at Chicago when he wrote the letter and had just sent Mrs. King, her mother and sister and his father-in-law, W.R. Patterson to Asheville.

He and Mrs. King had become involved in a contest with the Northern Trust company of Chicago over the “contested will” of the late James C. King, dated 1905. The newspapers had printed something of the alleged discovery of this second will and the party had left the fashionable Chicago hotel to escape the newspaper men ostensibly to go to New York. Mail was to be forwarded to their home address there. Afton Means was to get it, enclose several letters in one envelope, address it to him at Asheville, where the witness would receive it in bulk and distribute it properly, the purpose being to keep the “other side” (Northern Trust Company) in the dark.

Not a German Spy

In order to offset any impression heretofore created in the public mind that the defendant was a German spy or had been unloyal to America he was allowed to tell a weird story of German plots he claimed to have discovered and revealed to the American government. One was what he styled the
“Huerta plot,” which he described by reading a detailed and lengthy report he had compiled and delivered to William J. Burns following his severance of relations with the Burns detective agency and which the latter turned over to J.P. Tumulty, President Wilson’s private secretary. It told of a secret conference in Barcelona between “German interests” and General Huerta, in which it was agreed that the latter should follow the instructions of the German interests, organize in Mexico a sort of peace society, enlist prominent representatives for all factions and lead and expedition into the United States which would be met by American forces and bring the United States and Mexico into war with each other, the purpose of the plot. This report was dated March 8, 1915, and the witness reminded the jury that the plot was executed to the point that the expedition started to invade America and Huerta was arrested before the movement culminated. He told of another plot by German sympathizers and German interests to blow up munitions plants which he said he revealed personally to Secretary Daniels, whom he said he told of the plot to destroy the capitol of Ottawa, just in the way it was destroyed, just four weeks before it was burned.

While in the employ of the Burns agency he had investigated for its client, the Hamburg-American line, reports that British men of war were hovering close to the American shores and being supplied by American concerns with fuel and other supplies in violation of the neutrality laws; also he investigated a report that submarines for the allies were being built in the United States. He found and reported that neither of these reports was true.

Explains State’s Allegations

Going slowly and in detail through the numerous ramifications of his financial transactions as Mrs. King’s business agent, he explained each point that had been presented to the state in its effort to show a motive for the alleged crime of murder and in each instance told the jury that Mrs. King was a party to the transaction and that it had her approval.

He denied that he ever sought to control or restrain her, and declared she went and came at will in her own automobile.

The defendant’s brother, Afton Means, this morning finished his cross-examination, and Earnest Eury, the negro chauffeur, who drove the party to the Blackwelder Spring on that night of the death of Mrs. King, told a smooth-running story of the trip. He said Captain W.S. Bingham, a member of the party, told him a few minutes after the shooting that Mrs. King had shot herself and Afton Means said he told Chief of Police Robinson of Concord the same night that the defendant told him that she “shot herself accidentally.”

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