Murders in Valley County
Murder on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Sheep Creek – Middle Fork Salmon River
Middle Fork at Sheep Creek
photo courtesy Salmon-Challis National Forest
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Dirty Deeds in the Rough
By Dick D’Easum
One of the most grisly bits of business was the killing of Julius C. Reburg (also known as Reberk and Reeberg) on the Middle Fork of Salmon River near Sheep Creek in December 1917. The shooting was the product of a triangle. Charles and Frankie Ernst had been a happy married couple. He had lived at Clayton and on Wood River. She was Frances Cooper, daughter of Tim Cooper, discoverer of the Ramshorn Mine at Bayhorse and an early settler at Stanley.
Matrimonial bliss was shattered by Reburg. He courted Frances, notwithstanding her wedding. She responded affectionately and filed for divorce. With the small son of Ernst, Frances and Julius set up housekeeping back in the bush. Boiling mad, Charles Ernst traced them. He reached the remote cabin a few days before Christmas. Reburg was outside washing his face. A rifle shot killed him. Ernst dragged the body to a haymow. That night he roped the body and buried it in a shallow grave while Frances held a candle. Then he went away with the little boy. He surrendered at Challis.
Frances stayed in the cabin a couple of weeks before going out to Three Forks and then to Salmon where Ernst was in jail with his son. The wife of the sheriff took the child home, but he screamed so much at the separation from his father she took him back to jail.
Preparations for the trial suffered a setback when it was found that the shooting took place in Valley County. Ernst and son were taken nearly 1000 roundabout miles by train to Cascade. Frances Ernst, also charged, went in another coach.
At the trial, where Ernst was represented by L. E. Glennon of Hailey and the prosecutor was Frank Kerby, Mrs. Ernst said she thought her divorce had been granted. She further suggested that she might have fired the fatal shot, not her almost-ex-husband. Both were found guilty. Charles was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years; she got five to ten. Both were pardoned after serving parts of the terms. She went to Florida.
Charles Ernst went back to prison in 1942 for assault with a deadly weapon in Lemhi County. The charge, on which he drew one to two years, was that he shot a mine manager on Napias Creek. Ernst said the miner was stealing gold from his claim at Leesburg. He blamed “a California millionaire outfit of gangsters” for robbing him of $180,000 in seventeen months.
Judge Guy Stephens, who sentenced him, said Ernst “had a bad reputation, was feared by people in his community, and was inclined to take the law into his own hands. I consider him a menace to society.”
excerpted from: pgs 118-119 “Sawtooth Tales” By Dick D’Easum (Google Books)
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Julius Reberg Murdered by Ernsts
(Abridged from “A Tale of Two Inmates” by Pamala S. Parker, “The Mountain Light/The Newsletter of the Idaho State Historical Society,” 2205 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise, Winter-Fall 2008.)
In 1917, Charles was 30 years old and a miner. Mining was about all he knew. Frances was 24 years old and followed Charles from mine to mine. They never really had much to show for their efforts. Charles and Frances had a small son named Charles Jr. who was referred to as “Toddy.” The small Ernst family was once again on the move when Charles found a suitable location to mine and live along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Lemhi County. They lived in a tent camp when they settled and began working on the cabin. . . .
Two miles south of the Ernst tent camp on the Valley County side of the Middle Fork, was a ranch owned by a young German man named Julius Reberg. Julius was a hard worker and had a nice cabin, a barn, an out-building, cattle and horses. He stopped by to visit with Charles and Frances from time to time. . .
Soon Julius offered Frances a real house to live in and protection from her husband, with the agreement that she would get a divorce from Charles.
In November of 1917, Frances and Charles divorced in Challis. Charles was given custody of Toddy. The divorce must have been exactly what both of them needed. The day before the divorce, they went to the picture show. A couple of days afterwards, they had dinner together and were seen in “friendly” conversation.
During this time, it is believed Frances and Charles may have come up with a scheme. Charles, being the ever-loving ex-husband, helped form a plan that would not only see that Frances had a warm place for the winter, but perhaps even he and Toddy would as well.
Frances had two men vying for her attention. She headed to Julius’ ranch to become his new bride. What Julius didn’t know was Frances had a contingency plan.
A month passed, and Frances still did not have a ring on her finger. She went to the backup plan and convinced Julius to sign his place over to her. She explained to Julius that it would look really bad for a single woman to be living at a single man’s place, but that it would be very reasonable for a single woman to have a man living at her place to help with chores. Julius agreed.
In the next step of the plan, Frances would write a letter to notify Charles she received the bill of sale. This letter was to be “coded,” where only Charles and Frances would understand what it said, She was also to inform him if she was still under Julius’s influence and if she had killed him. Frances wrote her coded letter. Charles did not completely understand everything Frances tried to communicate to him. True to her nature. Frances started adding codes to her letter that Charles either never knew, or did not remember.
Charles was sufficiently confused with the complete meaning of the letter, but he understood that Julius had signed over the property and he was still alive. Charles headed to Julius’ ranch. On his way to the cabin, he stopped by the hardware store in Challis to purchase a rifle. Charles had lived in the area without a rifle, but on the 15th of December, 1917, he felt he needed one.
Charles arrived at Julius’ ranch the following day. After the sunset, he crept close enough to the cabin to see through the windows. Charles lingered outside for at least a half an hour, intruding into the private lives of Frances and Julius.
The following morning the sun broke through the clouds as Julius stepped out onto the porch, to wash for breakfast in the wash basin. Frances testified that the next thing she knew, she heard a rifle ringing out, and Julius stumbled into the cabin and collapsed on the floor. Charles and Frances both left Julius there to die. This was estimated to have taken about ten to fifteen minutes.
Charles version differed. He said that he held Julius at gun point, disarmed him and ordered him to release Frances from the hypnotic trance he had kept her in for the past few months. After Charles was satisfied Frances was no longer under Julius’ control, Charles took the shells out of his rifle, put them in his pocket and handed the gun to Frances. Charles claimed that Frances, standing directly behind him, shot Julius. He was certain the gun was empty when he handed it to her. He was also confident she did not kill Julius with an empty gun. The only explanation he could come up with was that he may have left a shell in by mistake or she picked up one he had dropped while putting them in his pocket.
Either way, it didn’t appear Frances was terribly shook up about Julius’ death, and Charles’ main concern was removing the body from the cabin so that he could rest and have breakfast. They drug Julius’ body out to the haymow and covered it with hay. Later that night, they dug a shallow grave and buried him.
Charles left the cabin a couple days later. He made his way back to Clayton eventually, where Toddy was staying with friends. He made a point to tell people along the way a story he had conceived, that Julius had “run off.”
Frances stayed at the cabin for about three more weeks and then made her way into Challis, notifying the authorities that Julius had been shot. Julius’ family was notified of his death, and his brother and brother-in-law came from Minnesota to take his body back home.
The murder investigation was assigned to Valley County. Charles was questioned initially and released. Frances went to stay with her folks who had retired in Florida. Charles soon remarried. Valley County charged Charles with Julius’ murder on July 21. 1919, and placed him under arrest. Frances agreed to return to Valley County, where she would plead guilty to charges for her part in the murder and would be a witness for the state.
Frances arrived in Cascade before the trial began. She was “guarded” by Valley County Sheriff, E.A. Smith. Sheriff Smith must have taken his duties very seriously, because he was seen all over town with Frances. He was seen guarding her at the lake, the picture show and other places of interest around town. A lot of the town’s people thought he was definitely going above and beyond the call of duty.
Just before the trial. Charles talked Sheriff Smith into letting him go to the Mitchell Hotel where Frances was being held. Sheriff Smith complied with Charles’ request, even though he knew this was not exactly appropriate. Charles hoped to talk Frances into taking the rap on the murder. Sheriff Smith hoped to overhear a confession from Charles. Everyone had his or her own agenda.
One of the new fangled Dictaphone machines was brought in. The voice transmitter end was placed in Frances’ room and the telephone-style receiving portion was placed in an adjacent room. This failed miserably. The technology was not advanced enough to allow those in the next room to hear the conversation well. More meetings were arranged, and on the last attempt they made a 12-inch square hole in the wall connecting the two rooms. On Frances’ side of the wall, a curtain was hung to hide this hole. In the adjoining room, a man sat in a chair and poked his head through into Frances’ room, concealed by the wall covering to listen for a confession. This also failed to yield a confession.
Charles was found guilty of second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve ten to twenty-five years; he was pardoned after two and a half years. Frances pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to serve five to ten years. Frances served four and a half years of her sentence before she was paroled.
Toddy was five at the time of the trial. When his parents were taken to the Idaho State Penitentiary, he was placed in the Children’s Home, just down the road from where his parents were incarcerated. Charles’ sister and her husband agreed to take guardianship of Toddy. After spending about one year in the Children’s Home, Toddy was put on a train to Washington. Toddy remembered it differently. He remembered he “ran away” front the Children’s Home. No doubt he thought about it many times while he was there and it became his reality.
Days after Charles’ conviction, his second wife filed for divorce. Shortly after being released from the penitentiary, he married for a third time. Toddy was finally able to be with his father again. Charles and his third wife had two children together, so Toddy had siblings.
In 1942, Charles was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was once again a guest at the Idaho State Penitentiary. This crime was committed over a property dispute. The man he shot was paralyzed from his wound. The warden stated that he felt Charles Ernst was a “menace to society” and was inclined to “take the law into his own hands.” Charles died in 1945, shortly after being released the last time from the penitentiary.
After Frances’ release, she went back to Florida to stay with her folks. They did not treat her kindly and reminded her that she was an ex-con. In 1938, her son tried to locate her and a missing persons report was created. The FBI notified the Idaho authorities in 1944 that Frances Cooper was living in Vancouver, Washington. It s not known if Frances ever remarried, but she did have a daughter named Ruth. Frances came back to Idaho in the 1960s, and in 1971 died from leukemia.
(1) “A Tale of Two Inmates” by Pamala S Parker, “The Mountain Light/The Newsletter of the Idaho State Historical Society,” 2205 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise, Winter-Fall 2008
(2) Smith, Don Ian and Naida West, Murder on the Middle Fork (Rancho Murieta : Bridge House Books, 2005)
source: Back Country History Project complied by Sharon McConnel
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Murder on the Middle Fork at Sheep Creek.
Mile 65.5 Sheep Creek on the left
Every river canyon seems to have a murder mystery: Hells Canyon has one, so does the Main Salmon. The murder on the Middle Fork occurred at Sheep Creek.
Charles Ernst was not the kind of man you could take lightly; he would just as soon settle a quarrel with a gun. He would kill mountain sheep in the winter, drag them across the road, and hang them up in front of his house in Challis. All the game warden, Tom Donahue, could say was, “There’s no way to talk to that man. If I go up there it’s kill or be killed.”
Old Bill Sullivan was trapping at the Cinnabar mine one winter and got into an argument with Ernst. Charlie went for his rifle in the cabin corner and Bill had to throw a pan of hot gravy in his face. After that no whiskers grew on one side of Charlie’s face, and he used to tell young Bill Sullivan, “Look at what your Dad did to me; I should have killed the son-of-a-bitch.”
Charlie was born in 1887 at Halley, Idaho. He married Frances Cooper who was a few years younger than he. They had a son named Todd. When the baby was a year old the Ernsts left Challis to take the Loon Creek trail down to the Middle Fork country. They planned to prospect for a while. It was the spring of 1917. They worked their way downriver to Sheep Creek.
A young man lived in a cabin there. His name was Julius C. “Jake” Reberk and he came from Ohio. He had a few horses and was raising hay on the flat. He also had an inconsequential placer claim up the creek. Reberk’s only problem was the fact that he was a “slacker” from World War I. He had come to Sheep Creek in 1914 and hoped that military officialdom would simply forget all about him.
Charlie and Frances looked his place over and must have decided they would not mind owning it. A conspiracy probably occurred. Ernst headed back to Challis, leaving his wife on the Reberk place. But things must not have gone as he planned.
Frances seems to have taken a liking to Reberk, for she divorced Charles in October. She sent her ex-husband a note giving him custody of their child subject only to his properly providing for the baby. But it may have been only a ruse.
In December she sent a coded message to Charlie: “I’ve killed a coyote but the pelt isn’t prime.” Charlie headed down to Sheep Creek. He arrived in time for breakfast and tied his horse by the big white rock. Reberk was washing his face at a pan on the porch. The two men exchanged “good mornings.”
What happened next was a matter of controversy never satisfactorily unraveled. Frances claimed she heard a shot and Reberk staggered in with a bullet hole in his back and dropped on the floor. Charlie said Frances shot Jake on the porch and he stayed to help her bury him because she had been his wife and the mother of his child.
Charlie went back to Challis and Frances stayed at Sheep Creek.
No one is certain how the killing came to be discovered. Sullivan said that a ranger, possibly Ned Foster, came in to check on Jake’s draft status. Frances kept saying he was gone fishing, but after a day and a half broke down and showed him the body, claiming Charlie was responsible.
The Lemhi County sheriff and coroner from Salmon investigated. Charles Ernst was then arrested and held for the Valley County sheriff, F. C. Sherrill.
That sheriff had to travel 800 miles by train to Salmon to pick up his man and 800 miles back. It was only about 100 miles in a straight line, but by train through Boise, Twin Falls, Pocatello, Armstead, Montana, and Salmon, it was a long trip. Frances came on the next train.
Judge L. S. Kimball held the preliminary hearing at Cascade in January, 1918. Ernst was placed on parole for a year and a half. He worked in various Long Valley logging camps, remarried and had another son.
Frances had gone to Tampa, Florida, to live with her parents. Her absence was undoubtedly the reason for Ernst’s parole, since she was the state’s chief witness. It is believed that at a revival meeting in Florida she suddenly “got religion.” She wrote a letter to F.M. Kerby, Valley County prosecuting attorney:
Ed Smith, sheriff of Valley County, went after her.
But something happened to Frances on her way to Idaho. She may even have fallen in love again. In any event, when she took the stand in July of 1919 she again reversed herself and said that Charlie, her former husband, had shot Jake.
Charles F. Reddoch was the trial judge, sitting on the bench of the Third Judicial District at Cascade. Raymond B. Ayers was the prosecuting attorney and L.E. Glennon of Salmon represented Ernst. The state based its prosecution on the theory that a conspiracy existed between the man and woman against the life and property of Reberk. At the trial a bill of sale for the Sheep Creek improvements for $300 to Frances from Reberk was revealed. The bill wasn’t dated and she had never paid him, but it must have been executed in October or November. Charlie maintained his innocence.
On August 15, 1919, the Cascade paper headlined the jury’s verdict: Charles Ernst guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced from 10 to 15 years in the Idaho penitentiary at Boise.
The state promptly filed a manslaughter charge against Frances Ernst. She was found guilty and sentenced to not less than five nor more than 10 years. Both Frances and Charlie were admitted to the prison on the same day.
A guilty conscience is its own accuser. Once in her cell, Frances confessed that she had committed the murder. Charlie appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. He was pardoned on July 30, 1921, having served almost two years. But his problems were not over.
Ernst went to work haying for Old Bill Sullivan. They got into an argument when Charlie said the American flag “wasn’t no good” and they soon had the hay wagon overturned.
Charlie went back to the Middle Fork and moved into the Mormon Ranch cabin. Billy Wilson owned the place and rode 20 miles down there to tell him to leave. On the way he thought it over and decided he’d better let old Charlie alone. Ernst starved out and moved to Leesburg.
At Leesburg he found some rich gold placering ground. There was a company working the claim next to his and Charlie told the man, “Whatever you do, don’t ever get on my land.” If the fellow had known Charlie better he would have heeded his words. As it was, the man’s son turned his Cat around on Charlie’s claim one afternoon and Charlie shot the boy though the hips. Then he walked over and said, “I thought I shot a deer.” Charles Alfred Ernst was again received at the Boise penitentiary in October, 1942. He was released 10 months later, dying of tuberculosis.
One night soon after his release he came to visit his old friend, Bill Sullivan. They talked most of the night. He planned to leave in the morning but Mrs. Sullivan insisted he stay while she made him a cake for his birthday. He died two days later in Salmon.
Frances Cooper Ernst was paroled in July of 1923 and pardoned the following April. From Florida she had asked the Board of Pardons for permission to remarry and leave the country.
John Bernston, brother-in-law of Billy Wilson, lived on the Mormon Ranch several years before moving to Sheep Creek. He farmed Sheep Creek for horse hay and acquired title in 1920.
from: pgs 111-116 “Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey & Cort Conley 1980
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Sheep Creek Topo
Sheep Creek, Middle Fork Salmon River, Valley County, Idaho
source: TopoZone Valley County Map Software
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Charles Ernst – Killing of Julius Reberk
Cascade News 1918 – 1924
Killing on Sheep Creek
Charles Ernest Held at Salmon City for Shooting Julius Reberk
Valley County Sheriff Goes After Prisoner.
Cascade News January 18, 1918 Volume III Number 43
Julius Reberk was killed by Charles Ernest on Sheep Creek, in Valley county, about 80 miles northeast of Cascade near the Lemhi county line, some time in December. Ernest is now in jail at Salmon City, awaiting the arrival of Sheriff F. C. Sherrill of Valley county, who started for Salmon City Tuesday morning to bring the prisoner to Cascade where his preliminary hearing will be held.
The telegram, which was received by the authorities at this place Sunday evening, did not give any of the particulars of the tragedy, not even the date upon which the killing took place.
It is not expected that the sheriff will be able to make the trip to Salmon City and back much short of ten days.
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Preliminary Hearing of Charles Earnest
Cascade News January 25, 1918 Volume III Number 44
Sheriff F. C. Sherrill returned Monday evening from Salmon City, county seat of Lemhi county, with Charles Earnest, charged with the killing Julius Reberk, by shooting, at Reberk’s residence on Sheep Creek in Valley county on the 18th of December.
Earnest is having his preliminary hearing before Probate Judge Kimball at this place today. At the hour of putting this number of the News on they press, the divorced wife of the prisoner, who was the first witness called for the State, had not concluded her testimony.
There are several witnesses yet to be examined.
The prisoner, a man of about 31 years of age, was accompanied to Cascade by his 4-year old son. He was divorced from his wife last November and the killing is claimed to have been the sequel of family troubles.
It is said that the divorced wife of Earnest testified against him at the coroner’s inquest, furnishing the principal evidence upon which the answer to the charge of murder.
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Sheriff Goes to Florida
Cascade News April 18, 1919 Volume V Number 4
Sheriff Edward A. Smith took his departure Wednesday morning for Ybor City, Florida, to bring back to Valley county Mrs. Earnst, who was principal witness for the State at the preliminary trial of Charles Earnst, her divorced husband, charged with the killing of Julius Reberk, on Sheep Creek in the extreme eastern portion of Valley county on Dec. 18, 1917. The case is expected to come to trial at the next term of the district court.
Craig Smith is acting as deputy sheriff during the sheriff’s absence from the county.
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Murder Trial Set for Thursday, July 31
Cascade News July 25, 1919 Volume V Number 18
Judge Charles F. Reddoch will convene an adjourned session of district court for Valley county on Tuesday next, July 29th.
The trial of Charles Ernst, charged with the killing of Julius Reberk, on Sheep Creek, in the extreme eastern portion of this county on December 18th, 1917, has been set for trial on Thursday, July 31st.
Frances Cooper, the divorced wife of Ernst, who was the principal witness for the State at the preliminary trial, and who is now also being hold to answer a similar charge to that against her former husband, will be placed on triad immediately following the conclusion of the case against Charles Ernst.
Prosecuting Attorney R. B. Ayers returned home last Saturday from Lamhi county where he spent several days investigating the evidence in connection with the cases.
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Charles Ernst Trial is Set for Monday
Cascade News August 1 1919 Volume V Number 19
Judge Charles F. Reddoch and Irving Smith, official court stenographer, arrived Sunday evening from Boise and district court was convened Menday morning.
The first day was devoted to the hearing of motions and demrrers, and the dismissal of what was commonly known as the Donnelly-Roseberry “Dog Case,” which was settled by agreement of parties, the defendant paying the costs.
The case State vs. Charles Ernst, charged with murder, was set for Monday owing to the fact that defendant’s attorney and witnesses had not arrived from Lemhi county. The jurors in attendance were excused until Monday and the court ordered 47 additional jurors to be drawn and Fred Driggs was appointed by Judge Reddoch as special deputy to summon the jurors, as both the sheriff and coroner were disqualified by having been indorsed (sic) on the information by the State as witnesses in the case. It is believed the trial will consume most of the week.
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Trial of Charles Ernst
Absorbing Interest of Community
Will Not be Concluded Before Monday or Tuesday of Next Week.
Frances Cooper Testifies for the State Against Her Former Husband
Defendant Placed on the Witness Stand in Own Behalf.
Cascade News August 8, 1919 Volume V Number 20
The trial of Charles Ernst who was charted with the murder of Julius Reberk in Valley county on December, 1917, is now in progress and will probably not be concluded before Monday or Tuesday of next week.
The state is represented by Prosecuting Attorney R. B. Ayers of Valley county, and the defendant by L. E. Glennon of Salmon City and T. S. Risser of Boise.
A jury for the trial of the case was secured just before the noon adjournment of court on Tuesday, after the examination of about seventy men who had been summoned.
The jury is as follows: James Darkwood, Fred Hall, F. H. Wallace, B. E. Himler, Thomas Moore, P. G. Hanson, William Barker, Edwarad Cole, W. A. Spickelmire, Douglas Yenson, Shelby Connor, W. A. Bean.
There has been in attendance thirty witnesses for the State and six for the defense, most of them from Lemhi county.
Frances Cooper, divorced wife of Charles Ernst and against whom a charge of murder is also pending, was the principal witness for the state. She related in a thrilling recital the circumstances of the killing of Reberk by the defendant, the burial of the body at night and subsequent developments that resulted in Ernst being arrested for the crime. Upon cross examination, a letter written by the witness while in Florida, in which she confessed that she, instead of Ernst, fired the fatal shot that ended Reberk’s life, was introduced by the defense.
The evidence on the part of the prosecution closed at noon Wednesday.
Counsel for the defense placed Ernst on the stand Wednesday afternoon, who has testified that Frances Cooper, his former wife, shot Reberk, relating at length his presence at the Reberk place at the time of the tragedy and his subsequent determination and efforts to shield the woman from the consequences of her crime because she was the mother of his child.
Ernst is under cross-examination at the time this brief account of the trial is being put in type.
The attendance at the trial has been so large every day that the seating capacity of the small room which court is being held will but little more than accommodate the ladies preset.
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Second Degree Murder
Verdict of Jury in the Charles Ernst Trial
Frances Ernst Pleads Guilty to Charge of Manslaughter.
Charles Ernst Sentenced to Serve from 10 to 25 Years in State Penitentiary and His Former Wife Given 5 to 10 Years.
Cascade News August 15, 1919 Volume V Number 21
In the gray dawn of Tuesday morning, when the jury filed into the court room and delivered a verdict of murder in the second degree, against Charles Ernst, charged with killing Julius Reberk in this county on the 18th day of December, 1917, there ended one of the most remarkable murder trials that has ever been held in Idaho.
The hearing of the evidence was concluded Saturday. Arguments by County Attorney Ayers for the prosecution and L. E. Glennon of Salmon City, and I. S. Risser of Boise, representing the defendant, occupied the day Monday. Judge Charles F. Reddoch finished reading the instructions of the court to the jury a little after eight o’clock Monday evening and the twelve men upon whose verdict depended the future of Charles Ernst, retired for their deliberations.
The jury having arrived at a verdict at 4 o’clock Tuesday morning, at 4 o’clock Tuesday morning, Judge Reddoch was called from his bed and going to the court room ordered the jury brought in, when the following verdict was delivered by F. H. Wallace, foreman and read by the clerk:
“We the jury, find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree.”
There were only present when the verdict of the jury was received, the court officers, counsel in the case and the defendant.
Upon dismissal of the jury, Judge Reddoch announced that a recess would be taken until four o’clock in the afternoon.
Upon the reconvening of court Tuesday afternoon, the defendants attorneys waived their right of further procedure in the case, whereupon the court pronounced sentence upon Charles Ernst, committing him to the state penitentiary for not less than 10 nor more than 25 years.
Following immediately upon the passing of sentence upon Charles Ernst, her former husband, against whom she had testified as principal witness for the State, Frances Ernst, was arraigned upon a complaint filed within the previous hour by the prosecuting attorney, charging her with the crime of “manslaughter.”
Being informed by the court of her right to be represented, by counsel and statutory time she might demand, the defendant promptly waived such right and expressed a desire to plead to the charge filed against her. The complaint then being read by the clerk, the defendant entered & plea of guilty.
Prosecuting Attorney Ayers then addressed the court briefly, calling attention to the fact that the State had depended upon the evidence of Frances Ernst to secure a conviction of Charles Ernst, referring the court to the usual practice, as he understood it, of courts in such cases.
The judgment of the court was then pronounced upon the defendant, Frances Ernst, that she be sentenced to the state penitentiary for a period of not less than five nor more than ten years.
The prisoners were taken by Sheriff Smith to Boise on Wednesday morning’s train, to been serving their sentences.
The crime for which Charles Ernst and his former wife Frances Ernst are now paying the penalty, was committed at, the Reberk ranch in the far eastern peet of Valley county on the morning of the 18th day of December, 1917. Frances Ernst, known as Frances Cooper, from whom Charles Ernst had obtained a divorce only a few weeks before, was living with Reberk in his isolated cabin on Sheep creek where the killing took place.
It was not until almost a month later that an investigation of the sudden disappearance of Reberk from the community resulted in a confession from the woman that Charles Ernst had committed the murder and that the dead man had been buried at night in a nearby field. She subsequently told where the body had been buried and related the gruesome particulars of the tragedy in detail.
The arrest of Charles Ernst followed at Challis, Idaho, a few days later. He was turned over to the sheriff of Valley county and had his preliminary hearing before Probate Judge L. S. Kimball at this place on the 25th of January, 1918, which resulted in his being held for trial on the charge of murder.
During more than two years following he was practically at liberty, working in the logging camps at this place and McCall, reporting to the sheriff from time to time.
He contracted a second marriage during the past winter. His present wife has a son about the same age as the son of his former marriage, who is now five years old.
Frances Ernst, whose evidence, strongly supported by corroborative testimony, resulted in the conviction of Charles Ernst, left the state shortly after the preliminary trial, going to the home of her parents at Tampa, Florida.
During the past winter she wrote letters to P. M. Kerby, former prosecuting attorney, revealing her place of residence, making a confession that it was she, instead of her former husband, killed Reberk, and offering to return to Idaho and accept the consequences of the crime, if a railroad ticket and money for other traveling expenses should be sent of her.
At that time she repudiated the truth of these statements and testified along the same lines as at the first examination more than two years ago, when her evidence resulted in Ernst being held for the crime. Some time later Sheriff Smith was given expense money by the commissioners of Valley county and brought the woman back.
When placed on the witness stand in his own defense Ernst admitted that he was present and witnessed the killing of Reberk, said he was covering the man with a revolver in defense of his own person, when the woman fired the shot that ended Reberk’s life.
He admitted that he remained at the cabin with the woman two day(s) and nights after the killing and said he had afterwards tried to shield her because she had been his wife and was the mother of his child.
The prosecution based its case largely upon the theory that a conspiracy existed between the man and woman against the life and property of Reberk, introducing code letters that passed between them and other circumstantial evidence in support of that contention.
The State used 14 witnesses, those from Lemhi having traveled nearly 600 miles coming and going. The cost of the trial to Valley county will be approximately $5,000.
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Ernst Case Appealed
Cascade News October 10, 1919 Volume V Number 29
Notice has been served on Prosecuting Attorney Ayers of Valley county, that an appeal has been taken to the Supreme Court, in the matter of Charles Ernst, who was convicted at the August term of District Court of the murder of Julius Reberk.
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Ernst Asks for Review of His Case
Cascade News May 21, 1920 Volume VI Number 9
Attorneys for Charles Ernst filed transcripts Saturday in the supreme court asking that body to make a review of the case. Ernst was convicted by a jury in the district court of Valley county, Judge Charles B. Reddoch presiding, of murder in the second degree, on August 12, 1919, having been charged with killing Julius Reberk on December 18, 1917. Emst is now serving a sentence of 10 to 25 years in the state penitentiary.
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Frances Ernst Makes Another Confession
Now Says that She Fired the Shot That Killed Reberk.
Stories of Ernsts Materially Differ.
Cascade News April 15, 1921 Volume VIII Number 4
The state board of pardons Tuesday refused to grant pardons to Charles and Frances Ernst, formerly husband and wife, who are serving time in the Idaho penitentiary for the murder of Julius Reberk in the extreme eastern part of Valley county in December, 1917. Both applications are to be held over by the board until the July meeting. The decision of the board followed an all-day meeting in which varying confessions concerning the killing were taken from Mr. and Mrs. Ernst.
Mr. Ernst was sent to the penitentiary from Valley county in August, 1919 on the testimony of his former wife, who said that her husband was guilty of the killing.
Mrs. Ernst was incarcerated in the penitentiary on her own plea of guilty to a charge of manslaughter and appeared before the board but refused to tell her story in the absence of the governor.
Subsequently during the session Wednesday morning in the governor’s office Mrs. Ernst confessed that she had done the killing and that her testimony to a Valley county jury to the effect that her husband was the guilty one was not true.
Mt. Ernst appeared before the board at the penitentiary in the afternoon but refrained from talking much because his attorney was not present. The story that he told, however, to members of the board about certain events is at variance with what his wife told concerning the same incidents. He asked that he be allowed to fully present his case at the July meeting of the board.
T. S. Risser, a Boise attorney, who defended Charles Ernst in his trial, also made a statement before the board when it was in session in the governor’s office. He referred to two letters written by Mrs. Ernst from Florida, where she went after the preliminary hearing of the ease against Charles Ernst was held at this place.
These letters were addressed to F. M. Kerby of Cascade who had formerly been prosecuting attorney of Valley county. In each of these, according to Mr. Risser’s statement, she said she killed Reberk and in the second she gave all the details.
“Mr. Lisser also mentioned a fact,” says the Statesman’s report, “which in the opinion of the pardon board, is the key to the whole difficulty. When Mrs. Ernst came back from Florida to participate in the trial of her husband, it it alleged that a certain officer influenced her to try to ‘stick’ her husband so she would get off lightly.”
In her confession before the pardon board Mrs. Ernst gave an account of herself and husband homesteading in a wild and almost inaccessible part of Lemhi county. She described her life there as a “prison.” Reberk finally came along and after becoming acquainted with Mrs. Ernst told her that if she would divorce her husband he would marry her. This, she said, she did and went to live with Reberk, who refused to marry her. Ernst heard where his former wife was and went to Reberk’s cabin, arriving on the day that Reberk and Mrs. Ernst were having a quarrel.
At this point the story as told by the two inmates of the penitentiary varies. Mrs. Ernst says that Reberk went out of the cabin, saw Ernst outside and same back threatening to kill her for telling her former husband where she was. He reached for a rifle from the wall and a scuffle ensued in which she took the weapon away from him and the two scuffled outs the door together into the yard. Here, according to Mrs. Ernst, she freed herself from Reberk and in a stooping position fired at him without placing the rifle to her shoulder.
Her husband’s story of this incident is entirely different. He confessed to the pardon board that he gave his wife a rifle after she and Reberk came from the house. He stated, however, that he thought he took all the cartridges from the magazine but carelessly must have over looked one. He says that the shot from which Reberk died was fired from behind him as he was advancing toward Reberk.
Charles Ernst will be represented at his hearing before the state pardon board in July by Attorney D. 14. Cox of Cascade, who has been retained in the case.
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Frances Ernst Pardoned
Cascade News April 11, 1924 Volume X Number 3
At the April meeting of the State pardon board. Frances Ernst, who plead guilty to manslaughter in galley county in August 1919, was granted a pardon.
She wishes to marry and leave the country.
source: “Crime: Murder – Reberk, Julius” City of McCall archives
(Note: Spellings are how they appeared)
page updated April 29, 2020