The year 1965 began with Payson enjoying a brand-new jail and ringing in the New Year in celebratory fashion. But less than a week into the New Year, tragedy visited Payson when four youths were killed in the jail.
The saga began on January 4, 1965 when deputies were investigating the theft of four cases of beer at Strawberry Lodge. Blaine Schroeder, 16, Clifford Greenland, 18, Kenny Haught, 15 and John Watkins, 16, were jailed that night with the knowledge and consent of their parents, for questioning in the said theft. But when Tuesday morning arrived, they had breathed their last breaths, as they were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Payson's brand-new jail.
According to Gila County pathologist, Alfred D. Musgrove, the deaths were caused by a faulty gas heating system, and occurred around 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
The jail was immediately shut down after the deaths. However, during the course of the investigation, two people were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes while surveying the situation. They were Lyman Peace, a deputy at Globe, and Tom Drake, director of the rescue and first aid association in Globe.
One item of note is that there was no jailer present overnight. According to news reports at the time, this was not uncommon in small communities, but was something that was going to be looked into by Gila County officials, following the tragedy.
This was a significant story, running on front pages across the state and in prominent places of newspapers across the nation. Unfortunately for Rim Country, this wasn't the first tragic deaths of youths during the latter part of 1964 and early part of 1965. According to newspaper reports at the time, the community was still reeling from the accidental death by shooting of a Pine youth in late 1964.
Throughout the month of January, the deaths were investigated. A six-person coroner's jury issued an open verdict on Jan. 28, with a verdict of "death by asphyxia by carbon monoxide emitted into the cell area by the heating unit." Eventually, the families of the four victims filed lawsuits. The suits were settled in Feb. 1967; with some newspaper reports at the time indicating that the total settlement amount was involved was $100,000.
Here's some information about the four victims, as provided in the Jan. 8, 1965 Payson Roundup.
Blaine Schroeder, 16, son of Mr. and Mrs. Dave Schroeder and a junior in Payson High School. His parents are employed at the Payson Country Club as greenskeeper and cook.
Clifford Greenland, 18, a senior in Payson High School who lived with his widowed mother at Pine. Mrs. Greenland was treated for shock at the Payson Clinic Hospital Tuesday afternoon.
Kenny Haught, 15, a sophomore. His parents are Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Haught of the Payson Cable TV Shop.
John Watkins, 16, sophomore, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Watkins. He was a newcomer this fall from California.
I want to mention a nice convention coming up in a few months that may interest folks. The Arizona History Convention is held once a year, featuring a number of great speakers presenting on history from around the state.
This year's convention will be April 24-27 at the San Marcos Resort and Conference Center in Chandler. Downtown Chandler has undergone some significant changes for the better in recent years and I'm sure it'll be a great time down there. I know that I'll be attending, probably bringing my mom and perhaps even my dad along with me to some sessions.
While details are not out yet, you can periodically check www. ArizonaHistory.org for more information.
One side note on the San Marcos area down there: the Henry "Pappy" Haught family moved down to Chandler for a few years in the late 1910s. As I understand it, they were about a mile from where the San Marcos Resort is now located.