12 such murder cases in 70 years: Dec. 18, 1869 thru Dec. 9, 1939

Enrique Garcia & Augustin Sanchez: --
2 of 12 Men Executed for Cattaraugus Murders

Historical echo? Death Row Mexicans in 1921 and in 2008

If History doesn't exactly repeat, surely at times it seems to echo.

Manuel C. Tellez, who was Mexican Charge d'Affaires in Washington at the time of the Enrique Garcia and Jose Sanchez cases, later became "dean" of the D.C. diplomatic corps, Mexico's Interior Minister, and its Secretary of State. His bio, along with those of other Mexican diplomats, appears in Spanish on the web site of Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Click image to access.
As work began on this page about two Mexicans who, despite their native country's pleas on their behalf, were executed Jan. 27, 1821, for unrelated Cattaraugus murders, a ruling was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting Mexico's efforts on behalf of 51 of its citizens on death rows in various U.S. state prisons.

More than 87 years before the highest federal court's ruling March 25, 2008, New York's newly-inaugurated Governor Nathan Lewis Miller of Cortland rejected pleas by Manuel C. Tellez, Mexican Charge d'Affaires in Washington, and Ramon P. De Negel, Consul General of Mexico, that the executions of Enrique Garcia and Augustin Sanchez be temporarily stayed.

The diplomats argued that such a postponement would give the new governor sufficient time to look into the details of the two cases.

Although Garcia and Sanchez were the first two condemned men on Sing Sing's death row whose scheduled executions came due since Miller had been sworn in 25 days earlier, he maintained that delaying their electrocutions was unwarranted. Miller took the position both men had been afforded every opportunity under law and that he would not intervene.

The Jose Sanchez Case

Before being elected governor Nov. 2, 1920 by defeating Al Smith's bid for re-election, Nathan Lewis Miller had served as state controller, state supreme court justice and Cortland's corporation counsel. He also had been U.S. Steel's general counsel and one of its vice presidents. During his one term as governor, he restructured state government, formed a motion picture monitoring panel, instituted penal reforms, and established a state purchase & supply dept., and encouraged waterpower development. After his own bid for re-election was defeated by the former governor whom he had defeated, Miller returned to his legal career and to U.S. Steel Corp. as counsel and a director. Image is based on one on the Find A Grave web site. Click to access.
Nevertheless, on the day before the executions, he did grant attorney/investigator Grace Humiston about an hour for her to air claims of new evidence warranting at least a stay to allow further investigation.

However, Miller was unmoved by her arguments, including that a lady's comb found near the Sanchez case murder scene substantiated the convict's sworn contention that Jose Lizirraga had been killed by an unidentified man and woman whom the two Buffalo steel mill workers encountered Nov. 16, 1919.

The prosecution theory, as presented at trial by the office of District Attorney Archibald M. Laidlaw of Ellicottville, was to the effect:

  • that Augustin Sanchez, 31, wanted the money which Jose Lizirraga, 32, had saved from wages at the Buffalo steel plant where they both worked;
  • that Lizirraga was about to return home to Mexico with his savings and use the money to make a better life there for himself and his loved ones;
  • that pretending to give Lizirraga a farewell night on the town, Sanchez secured a car for them to go bar-hopping;
  • that when their vehicle got to a lonely stretch on Hinsdale Road between Blakesley Hollow and Hannigan Hill in Olean, Augustin stabbed Jose in the neck, took his money and other valuables, and dumped the body on the side of the road.

Sanchez' most famous supporter was Mrs. Humiston. She had gained celebrity for her investigative and legal work in "solving" high profile crime mysteries, especially the unrelated cases of Charles Stielow, an innocent man on death row, and Ruth Cruger, a missing 17-year-old.

Using as the search term "Hinsdale Road between Blakesley Hollow and Hannigan Hill" (the Jose Sanchez case crime site), a Google map search resulted in the image above, showing Back Hinsdale Road between Blakeslee Hollow Road and Hannigan Hallow Road in the Olean area.
Consequently, Grace's involvement on behalf of Sanchez drew newspaper interest to his situation and helped to enlist others in his cause. Her and their efforts on his behalf continued right to the last possible minute.

After her conversation with the governor, she told reporters she would send Miller a follow-up written brief. She added, "Poor Sanchez sent me a telegram 'My life is in your hands. It is getting late.' I sent him a telegram telling him of what had been done so that he might have a little hope."

On Sanchez' last day, Mrs. Humiston sent the governor that follow-up brief on which she labored through the night. It was of no avail.

Others who also had striven on his behalf likewise continued their efforts into the proverbial 11th hour. Among these were John M. Ellis, attorney-of-record for Sanchez, and Mrs. Morris Goldstein, an associate of Clark H. Hammond of Hammond, Goldstein, De Marchi and Farrell, a prestigious Buffalo law firm. Hammond was a former Erie County Municipal Judge and Buffalo Corporation Counsel.

NYS Justice Louis W. Marcus, "dean" of the state judges in the Erie region, held a special term hearing in Buffalo to review the entire record . The judge even called the governor to check on Miller's position in the matter. Justice Marcus said that the governor told him that the question had been passed upon and that he had not changed his mind.

Sing Sing Warden Lewis E, Lawes, outspoken critic of the death penalty, let it be known that he needn't receive official documents in hand to cancel the execution, that a simple single phone message from the governor or his office would suffice, and that a phone line would be kept free just for that purpose.

Above is a graphic pen sketch of Grace Humiston based on a photo on the "America’s Greatest Forgotten Woman Detective" page of author Charles Kelly's interesting web site. Click image to access it -- HardboiledJournalist.Com
Clearly his supporters found Sanchez as Grace described: a good man held in warm regard by many friends, including former strangers who became friends as they came to know him.

Besides Humiston's involvement, the case also drew attention because its background setting included the major national steel workers strike that had begun two months prior to the robbery murder and continued two months afterwards.

During the strike, industry leaders followed a divide-and-conquer strategy, pitting the interests of skilled workers against those of the unskilled, citizens versus non-citizens. On the evening of Day 1 of the strike, Carnegie Steel, speaking for U.S. Steel, declared:

"We are in better shape generally tonight than we were during the day. and the situation is pleasing under the circumstances. Our greatest concern is at our blast furnaces, some of which have been banked because of the shortage of common labor, but as far as the skilled element is concerned. the defection is nil. In every instances where the men are out, it is the foreign and unskilled men. 95 per cent of the American workmen remained at work."

The Lackawanna Steel Company, whose plants had been hit by the strike, was situated in the Buffalo area. The company's 1910 sales brochure outlined its history:

"The Corporation known as the Lackawanna Steel Comp nay was organized in 1902, and acquired the properties of the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company. The latter company was the outgrowth of a previous consolidation composed of iron and steel companies, the oldest of which, the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company . . . .[founded] in 1840. The origin of what finally developed into the present corporation had its beginnings over 70 years ago.

The above image is from the left half of a photo on Page 6 of the Lackawanna Steel Plant and Local History Museum web site's retelling of the mill's history. The image below is from the right half of the same photo.The full photo's caption: "Lackawanna Steel Co. pay car at the Coke Ovens. Early 1900s." Click either image to access.
"The plant of the Lackawanna Steel Company is located on a tract of land of about 1,000 acres, along Lake Erie at and beyond Stony Point, starting from the line of the city limits of Buffalo, N.Y. Its average width is 3,000 feet and it is about three miles long.

"Besides the very large plant, including the manufactories of the various products, there are two large villages on this tract owned by the Steel Company."

On Sept 22, 1919, when the strike began, its organizers claimed 279,100 out of the 325,000 workers at the various mills targeted had struck, including 12,000 in the Buffalo region. But by Dec. 10, the number of the Buffalo region strikers had dwindled to 5,000.

The unsuccessful strike formally ended Jan. 9, 1920. One of the many factors contributing to its failure was the prominent role of William Z. Foster in organizing and leading the strike. His Communist leanings made easier the industry's efforts to paint the labor action as subversive, radical and part of an anti-American conspiracy. Although Foster would, in fact, eventually become head of the Communist Party and its perennial presidential candidate, the strike actually had developed from the unions' need to establish their credibility in challenging the woeful working conditions, long hours, and low wages that steel workers experienced.

One of the few expressions of sympathy for the workers coming from a major organization was voiced by the Interchurch World Movement. The IWM's originating call in the early 20th Century came from Presbyterians but its approach was ecumenical. Its Report on the Steel Strike of 1919, produced by a special inquiry commission, found that the steel workers had struck for "a reduction of their long 12-hour day and seven-day week."

Historian Mark Goldman, in High Hopes: the Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York observed that "For years the traditional source of cheap labor for the steel mills of Lackawanna had been eastern Europe. In 1910 over half of the work force was Slavic. The war [WWI] ends this . . . ."

The above image is from a photo on Page 5 of the Lackawanna Steel Plant and Local History Museum web site's retelling of the mill's history. The photo's caption: "General view of Plant looking southwest. From sales brochure circa 1910." Click image to access.
James Fallows, an Atlantic Monthly editor, writing in 1984 from a Chicago perspective concerning the Great Lakes steel industry and immigration impacts, noted that "the Poles arrived during the 'new immigration' of eighty years ago, and they still predominate around many of the steel mills. Mexican immigrants and blacks from the South came shortly afterward, drawn by the labor shortages of the First World War and efforts to break the nationwide steel strike of 1919."

The above image is from a photo on Page 7 of the Lackawanna Steel Plant and Local History Museum web site's retelling of the mill's history. The photo's caption: "1910 sales brochure." Click image to access.
Undoubtedly, in Buffalo as in Chicago, WWI did open economic opportunities on the homefront to those whose industrial employment had previously been marginal. Also undoubtedly, in Buffalo as in Chicago, struck steel companies recruited blacks as well as Mexicans and other immigrants to keep their mills operating and to break the strike. But any notion that Mexicans or blacks first or only came to the Buffalo region or to the steel industry as strikebreakers in 1919 would be a simplistic rendering of labor and local histories whose known facts run to the contrary.

The region had an African American community tracing back to well before the Civil War. Some credit as having been Buffalo's first non-Native American settler an escaped slave named Joseph Hodge, sometimes identified as "Black Joe" and described as a "Son of Africa." He had lived among the Seneca Indians from 1771 and with his Indian wife ran a trading post. By 1843 the Buffalo black community had grown so significantly that it hosted a National Convention of Colored Men at the Vine Street AME Church.

Mexicans were becoming a part of the U.S. steel industry labor force well before late 1919. David Gutiérrez, in his 1995 study of more than 100 years of Mexican immigration, Walls and Mirrors, noted on Page 45 that Mexicans by 1910 could be found working in the steel industry in the Great Lakes region. That, of course, would include the Buffalo area on Lake Erie.

So far, the research for this page of NYCHS' Cattaraugus County Bicentennial presentation has not established how long Sanchez and Lizirraga had been employed in the Buffalo area as steel workers.

The Jose Medellin Case

The U.S. Supreme Court decision, which came down in late March 2008 as this web page was being prepared, involved legal moves by the New York law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP seeking to have the double murder-rape convictions of Jose Ernesto Medellin overturned because Texas authorities had not advised the 18-year-old that he could have the Mexican consulate notified about his arrest.

For an Adobe Acrobat PDF copy of the Medellin decision, click the above U.S. Supreme Court web site image of the statue "Authority of Law" (James Earle Fraser, sculptor) that stands on the south side of the Court's entrance (Photograph by Lois Long).
Medellin, a Mexican citizen who has lived most of his life in the U.S. and attended U.S. schools, reads, writes and speaks English. He had been advised of his Miranda rights but became aware of his consulate notification rights only after his conviction and sentence.

The victims were two school girls, 14 and 16 years old, en route through a park to their homes when set upon by Medellin and 5 others in his street gang. The girls were grabbed, each raped and sodomized repeatedly, sometimes being raped by one assailant while being sodomized by another, beaten, kicked, stomped, and strangled. The girls had endured an hour of depravity and brutality whose recounting at trial, through autopsy and confession evidence, brought tears to the eyes of people in the courtroom even as the reality had to the eyes of veteran police who found the bodies four days after the girls were reported missing.

In 2003, Mexico -- represented by Debevoise & Plimpton -- took to the International Court of Justice (aka World Court) in the Hague the cases of Medellin and 50 other U.S. death row Mexicans who had not been informed of their consulate notification rights under the Vienna Convention. By a 14 to 1 decision March 31st, 2004, that U.N.-sanctioned tribunal called upon the U.S. to review or reopen all 51 cases.

Texas rejected President Bush's memorandum directive that it and the other involved states -- California, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Arizona and Arkansas -- comply. Medellin's lawyers petitioned the nation's highest court to uphold the Bush directive and to invalidate Medellin's capital crime convictions. By 6-to-3, the top U.S. court held that "Neither Avena [the International Court of Justice ruling] nor the President’s Memorandum constitutes directly enforceable federal law that pre-empts state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions."

For an Adobe Acrobat PDF copy of the Medellin decision, click the above U.S. Supreme Court web site image of the statue "Contemplation of Justice" (James Earle Fraser, sculptor) that stands on the north side of the Court's entrance (Photograph by Lois Long).
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, noted:

Medellín first raised his Vienna Convention claim in his first application for state post-conviction relief. The state trial court held that the claim was procedurally defaulted because Medellín had failed to raise it at trial or on direct review. The trial court also rejected the Vienna Convention claim on the merits, finding that Medellín had “fail[ed] to show that any non-notification of the Mexican authorities impacted on the validity of his conviction or punishment.”

Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Medellin case addressed a complex mix of intersecting issues, including international law, the writ of the world court, national sovereignty, Presidential powers, state sovereignty, and treaty obligations. One can little doubt that, to gain time for Jose Sanchez' innocence to be established, Grace Humiston herself would have tried to set spinning in the legal firmament such an all-consuming "black hole." She too would have cited non-notification of the Mexican consulate, had such a treaty provision at issue in the Medellin case existed in her own era.

But whether Humiston would have done so for the likes of Jose Medellin is quite another matter altogether. One might reasonably suspect she would have preferred being part of the prosecution trial team against him. After all, the causes in which Humiston was actively and earnestly engaged, sometimes in an official law enforcement capacity, included rescuing young girls kidnapped for sex slavery and/or brutalizing peonage.

The Enrique Garcia Case

Although the Mexican diplomats' appeal to Gov. Miller referred to both Mexicans on Sing Sing's death row, the case of Enrique Garcia generated considerable less public attention than Jose Sanchez' case.

This may have reflected the differences in the character of the cases and/or in the character of the convicts.

Garcia, 21, a tanner, and Andre Elmenski, 29, fellow boarders in a rooming house on Ave. A, Olean, quarreled Sept. 30, 1918, in the parlor about a woman. When the shouting ceased, Andre turned to leave. Enrique was convicted of pulling out a handgun and shooting his rival three times in the back. The victim died at the scene.

Using as the search term the Ave. A address of the rooming house in the 1918 Olean murder case, a Google map search resulted in the image above. It shows Ave. A's proximity to where tanneries had been situated: One at Ave. B & Connell St. (bottom of image near tracks) and another near Homer St. (top of image, other side of the expressway not there in 1918). Enrique Garcia could walk to his job as a tanner.
Eileen McCartan Smith's excellent North Olean History web site -- www.northoleanhistory.com -- provides a detailed account of the local tanning industry including these interesting bits:

  • That around 1910, the Cattaraugus Tanning Co. acquired land situated at Avenue B and Connell Street;

  • That Cattaraugus Tanning Co. operated until 1919 when it was sold to the Kistler Leather Co. but continued operations under the old name; and

  • That the Cattaraugus Tannery closed July 1, 1929 because of adverse economics factors impacting it and the industry. The plant closing left about 123 jobless.

A web search, using as the search term the Avenue A address of the rooming house in the Sept. 30, 1918 murder case results in the map immediately above that shows the Avenue A vicinity in close proximity to the Cornell St.- Avenue B location of the former Cattaraugus Tannery.

Eileen McCartan Smith's North Olean History web site's page about local tanneries also noted a major one -- about 10 acres -- had been situated on the Homer track, with 2 Mile Creek to its north. It began as the Claflin tannery in 1892, became Adam Kinley & Sons in 1894, and went on to becoming the most successful and only leather processing plant in the region for many years around the turn of the century.

The map resulting from the web search for the Avenue A rooming house address also shows the proximity of Avenue A to Homer St. Apparently back in 1918, Avenue A ran through what is now the Southern Tier Expressway.

In any event, tanner Garcia apparently would have been within easy walking distance of his job. It would have been better for Andre Elmenski and for Enrique himself had he gone for a walk, whether to the tannery or wherever, to cool off after the parlor room yelling ended.


Click the above book cover image to access more information about Daniel Allen Hearn's excellent Legal Executions in New York State.
-- This New York Correction History Society web presentation, undertaken in observance of the Cattaraugus Bicentennial, considers the cases of the 12 men in the county's history convicted and executed for murder.

Their cases are explored, each in turn, in their own terms and, as this page gives ample evidence, also are explored as the means for connecting to other personages, events, developments and currents in the histories of the county, state and country.

-- The cases of Enrique Garcia and Augustin Sanchez point up the value of Daniel Allen Hearn's excellent Legal Executions in New York State.

His book's entries for them provided the starting points in tracking down their stories.

In particular, his mentioning their occupations as well as the addresses of the crime scenes helped to open further lines of inquiry and research.

-- Bethlehem Steel acquired Lackawanna Steel for $60 million in October 1922.

The approximately two-decades old plant had become outdated, a factor credited for what has been regarded by industry observers as a low price paid for the acquisition.

Sixty years later Bethlehem Steel announced Lackawanna plant steelmaking was being shutdown down.

It phase-out was completed Oct. 17th/18th of 1983. Thousands of jobs were lost. Major steelmaking ended in Western New York,

Click the above image of the Lackawanna Public Library (with insert) to access the Steel Plant Museum web page.
The Steel Plant Museum was established in 1984 to preserve and document the then newly- extinct industry.

Most of the collection is from Bethlehem's Lackawanna plant, but artifacts from Republic Steel, Hanna Furnace, and other local companies are also included.

Situated at the Lackawanna Public Library, the museum hours are concurrent with the library's.

Created by Bill Piekarski and edited by Vincent Tagliarino, the Steel Plant Museum's web site -- http://www.steelpltmuseum.org -- provides many images and much text detailing the 82-year history of the plant. For further information, contact Mike Maylak at mmalyak@adelphia.net

-- Archibald M. Laidlaw of Ellicottville, whose office prosecuted Garcia and Sanchez, was district attorney of Cattaraugus County from 1914 until his death Tuesday, May 24, 1926 in a Buffalo hospital after an operation performed a week earlier. Archibald, 55, was the son of William G. Laidlaw, who also had been Cattaraugus County DA (1877-1883) as well as Congressman (1887 - 1891).

Click the above July 2007 image of Charles Kelly to access his web site's page about Grace Humiston.
-- Mary Grace Winterton Humiston, better known as Grace Humiston, was a fascinating combination:

  • attorney,
  • investigator,
  • reformer,
  • law enforcement agent,
  • death row inmates advocate,
  • world traveler,
  • adventurer, and
  • a very attractive brunette.

Daughter of New York merchant and Baptist lay leader, she graduated Hunter College in 1888, taught at Collegiate School and attended evening classes at New York Law School, graduating near the top of her class in 1904.

The young female attorney set up the "People's Law Firm" with a sliding fee scale based on a pay-as-you-can principle. She married Howard Humiston, associated with her in the law firm.

Immigrant families hired her to find loved ones who had suddenly disappeared. Grace's investigations -- sometimes involving her going in disguise from labor camp to labor camp in the South -- uncovered a network that kidnapped or lured unsuspecting women into peonage.

Click the above image of the hard book cover for Charles Kelly's novel Pay Here to access his web site's page about Grace Humiston.
Author Charles Kelly of Arizona, who has researched her life, written about it, and shared with NYCHS some of his findings, noted Mrs. Humiston was named a special assistant U.S. Attorney to help prosecute the slave labor practitioners.

Later she traveled the globe crusading against passenger ship companies that circulated false claims about jobs lined up for immigrants who would book passage to the U.S.

Kelly, prize-winning reporter with the Arizona Republic and a former MP, told NYCHS that, "Three times, she saved men and women convicted of murder and sentenced to death,"

One of those cases -- that of Charles Stielow -- is touched upon in this presentation's page about Giovanni Ferraro.

Another case involved an Italian woman condemned to death for murder. Humiston obtained a commutation of the woman’s sentence.

Soon after that, she did likewise for an Italian man in the death house at Sing Sing prison.

In 1917, NYC Police Commissioner Arthur Woods appointed Grace a special investigator to pursue sex slavery cases. That same year Mrs. Humiston wrote a series of articles addressing young women's vulnerability when walking alone at night, when in the work place, and when involved in a dating or romantic relationship.

Her zeal against the sexual exploitation of women led her into making charges about such criminal vices running rampant at Army camps just as the U.S. was gearing up to send its soldiers "over there, over there." Unable to prove her accusations, she saw the public turn against her in its own patriotic zeal to show support for the troops.

These points are mentioned as simply background to the passage in the main text to the effect that Grace might well have not championed Jose Medellin's cause, although she would most likely have used the consulate non-notification claim in an appropriate case she choose to champion, if such a treaty provision at issue in the Medellin case had existed in her own era.

-- Jose Medellin's lawyers, from the New York-based law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton with 600+ lawyers there and at offices in other major cities around the world, represented him pro bono; that is, as a public service. While many of the firm's pro bono representations are mentioned with generic references, the Medellin case was one of those cited on its web site with identifying detail. Another was the work of its attorneys representing Sudanese and Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo Bay in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights, filing petitions for their release and to improve the conditions of detention.

Also cited with identifying detail was Debevoise & Plimpton attorneys' role in Brad H., et al. v. City of New York, a class action case involving New York City Department of Correction practices with regard to the release of mentally ill inmates. The case's settlement addresses providing post-release treatment planning. Still another Debevoise & Plimpton pro bono representation that the web site details is its attorneys' participation in legal efforts seeking class action status for inmates claiming sexual abuse at various NYS Department of Correctional Services women prisons.

Thomas McCarthy,
General Secretary/webmaster
NY Correction History Society
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