Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Edith Colby’s Mistake

Aspiring journalist Edith Colby came to Thompson Falls from Spokane in 1916 and took a job with the democratic Independent-Enterprise. Edith and others wrote some personal attacks on A. C. Thomas, chairman of the Republican County Central Committee, published in the paper. She and Thomas traded verbal insults and Thomas accused Edith of loose morals. Edith was enraged and stole a loaded revolver, which she showed to her boss, attorney A. S. Ainsworth, and her editor, John Manire. Manire showed her how to use the weapon and suggested that shooting Thomas would be good for the newspaper. The two men later testified that they had no idea Edith would actually pull the trigger. But she did. Edith met Thomas on the street and shot him three times. The coroner’s inquest found that both Ainsworth and Manire shared the blame with Edith. All three were arrested. Burton K. Wheeler of Butte, later a well-known political figure, was the relentless special prosecutor. However, the court dropped all charges against Ainsworth, and the judge directed the jury to find Manire not guilty. Edith pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and her mother testified that mental illness ran in the family.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, PAc 85-91 5276
Newspapers across the Northwest covered the spectacular murder trial. Edith’s dramatic lapses into unconsciousness earned her no sympathy. Found guilty, she received ten to twelve years at Deer Lodge. Edith’s attorneys appealed, claiming that Wheeler maligned Edith Colby’s character during the trial and made public remarks that affected the verdict. The Supreme Court of Montana denied a new trial. Edith Colby served only two years at Deer Lodge, returned to newspaper work, and died in California in 1942.

P.S. Yesterday I realized that this blog's default settings were preventing some people from commenting. I adjusted the settings, so now anyone should be able to leave comments, regardless of whether or not you have a blogger account. Shoot me an email if it still gives you trouble!


  1. Do you know if the shooting elevated newspaper sales?

    1. I don't have the statistics, but I think we can be sure it did!

  2. This is my second cousin twice removed. "Mental illness runs in the family." Yep - I always wondered where I got it.

    She was living in L. A. with a younger man who she told the census takers was her nephew. He wasn't.