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Convicted Three Times of First Degree Murder Then Beats Law by Slaying Self
Nevada State Journal, March 30, 1924, page 1

Unparallelled Criminal Trial Which Took Place in Nevada Re-told
Alpheus Vaughan of Lander COunty Principal CHaracter in Story


There are few, if any, criminal cases in American history that parallel the case of Alpheus Vaughan of Lander county, who was found guilty of murder in the first degree, upon the first ballot in three distinct trials and then when ordered to be brought before the judge to receive his sentence of death by hanging for the third time, took poison and died before the sheriff could reach him.

The following story told by Judge W. D. Jones, carries with it thrills that make one shudder to think of the shadow of the rope. The surroundings and atmosphere of the crimes are a picture of uncalled for violence. The west and the wire fence take one to the water hole murders, the great open places where majestic hills make nature's wonderful background, where peace abides in every canon, draw and peak.

This story would furnish a theme for the pen of a master hand to show human passion, human impulsiveness, and carelessness of life.

Judge Jones, who relates the facts as stated below is a pioneer of Nevada. In the old days he was called upon to witness the making of men. He has watched and carefully dissected the faults and failings and the goodness and godliness of most of the citizens of this great commonwealth. He brought more than one gunman to book. The following is a lesson depicted with facts that the reader will have cause to remember.

In 1893 Alpheus Vaughan, then 21 years of age, killed John Litster, 19, and Willie Litster, 16, on the Litster ranch in Boone canon, Lander county, Nevada by shooting them with a Winchester rifle.

John Litster was shot dead upon the spot, while his brother, Willie, lingered for several hours, each being shot once, and only a few seconds apart.

The Vaughan family lived on the Vaughan ranch at the mouth of Boone canon, where its waters flow into Reese river, 30 miles below and north of Austin, the county seat of Lander county, and the Litster ranch was, and is about five miles above and southerly from the Vaughan ranch in Boone canon.

Onthe morning of the day of the fatal shooting, Alpheus Vaughan, his brother, Charley, and Nick Roost loaded a wagon at the Vaughan ranch with a small mining outfit, and drove up Boone canon past the Litster home. When a half a mile above the Litster home they turned off the road to the right to open and pass through the wire fence of the Litster ranch to go, as they cli8mbed, to a mining prospect in the mountains two or three miles outside of the Litster ranch.

Alpheus Vaughan and his companions could have gone on up the canon road from where they turned to the right, passed out through the gate at the upper end of the Litster ranch, and driven to their mining claim without opening the Litster wire fence, where the killing of the two Litster boys took place.

The two Litster boys had been sent by their father that morning, with hammers, staples, et.c to go around the wire fence of the Litster ranch and to repair it where needed.

Notwithstanding, Vaughan and his companions diverged to the fence of the Litster ranch, wehre they met the two Litster boys John and WIllie, and there they stopped their wagon, and, Charley Vaughan being the driver, Alpheus Vaughan took the Winchester rifle from the wagon, walked to, and in front of the horses, placed his Winchester rifle muzzle down on is boot, and inquired

"Why the talk?"

Willie Litster, at this time was near a bunch of willows on the right hand side of the parties and near the place where Vaughan and his companions desired to go through Litster's wire fence. John Litster was standing to the left of, and near Willie, when the shooting took place; and after some parleying Vaughan raised his Winchester rifle, shot Willie mortally, and as John ran away, leveled the Winchester on him and shot him dead. Vaughan and his party immediately drove back.

The father of John and Willie shortly afterwards went up on his ranch and seeing the saddle horses of his two sons tied to the fence, went up there and found Willie wallowing in the snow in mortal agony, and John dead a few feet away.

Inquiring of Willie what had happened, he told his father that Vaughan had shot him and then killed John.

Rushing back to his home, the father told his wife what had happened, harnassed a span of horses, hitched them to a spring wagon, and with the mother went to the scene of the shooting. Willie was placed in the wagon, and father and mother drove him to their home, the boy's blood marking a red trail between the wheels of the wagon. Leaving Willie with his mother the father returned and brought back the body of his son John.

The neighbors, having been notified, gathered at the Litster home, and little Jim Litster was dispatched to Austin for Dr. Huntsman. Before the arrival of the physician Willie, too, had passed to the great beyond.

When Jones, who was then district attorney of Lander county and Wilham Easton, sheriff, arrived at the Litster home, about 12 o'clock that night, they found the bodies of the two murdered boys, lying side by side.

Willie, after telling his father that Vaughan had shot him and then killed John, told others at his home not to send for a doctor, that he could live but for a few minutes.

His mother persuading him to take some remedy said:

"Willie, take this."

"It will do me no good, mother. I will be dead before Dr. Huntsman can get here," he said.

Very soon after this he expired.

Vaughan was arrested and placed in jail, duly indicted for the murder of John and Willie Litster, and JOnes, in due time, brought him to trial for the murder of Willie Litster.

First Trial

The first trial was presided over by Judge Fitzgerald, and Vaughan was convicted on the first ballot of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hanged. The judgment was reversed by the supreme court of Nevada, because of an erroneous instruction of the trial court on "malice aforethought."

Second Trial

The second trial was presided over by Judge C. E. Mack, and Vaughan was convicted on the first ballot of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged. The judgment was reversed by the supreme court because of the disqualification of a juror.

Third Trial

For a third trial District Attorney Jones procured a change of vanue from Lander county to Washoe county, and the trial took place in Reno, Judge A. E. Cheney presiding.

During all of these three trials, J. H. MacMillan of Winnemucca and James F. Dennis, both able lawyers, defended Vaughn.

After several days of trial in the Reno courthouse, during the closing arguments of which the courtroom was filled, and the corridors crowded, the jury for the third time returned a verdict of murder in the first degree on the first ballot.

IN the county jail, just before he was to be called into court to have the judgment of death pronounced upon him by Judge Cheny, Vaughan took some kind of poison and died that evening.

Thus was verified the oft-repeated declaration of Vaughan's mother that her son would never be hanged for the murder of the Litster boys.

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