By David G. Thomas
The abduction and apparent murder of Colonel Albert J. and Henry Fountain on February 1, 1896, shocked and outraged the citizens of New Mexico. It was not the killing of Colonel Fountain, a Union Civil War veteran and a prominent New Mexico attorney, which roused the physical disgust of the citizenry – after all, it was not unknown for distinguished men to be killed. It was the cold-blooded murder of his eight-year-old son which provoked the public outcry and revulsion.
The evidence indicated that although Colonel Albert J. Fountain was killed during the ambush, his son was taken alive, and only killed the next day.
The public was left without answers to the questions:
- Who ambushed and killed Colonel Fountain?
- Who was willing to kill his young son in cold-blood after holding him captive for 24 hours?
The case was never solved. Two men were eventually tried for and acquitted of the crime.
The case file for the crime contains almost no information. There are no trial transcripts or witness testimonies. The only reports that exist today of the investigation of the case are these Pinkerton Reports, which were commissioned by the Territorial Governor, and then stolen from his office four months after the murders. These Reports, now recovered, are published here.
These Reports are important historical documents, not only for what they reveal about the Fountain murders, but also as a fascinating window into the how the most famous professional detective agency in the United States in the 1890s – the Pinkerton Detective Agency – went about investigating a murder, at a time when scientific forensic evidence was virtually non-existent.
The two Pinkerton Operatives sent to investigate the crime were John Conklin Fraser and William C. Sayers, the Agency’s most competent detectives. Their investigative methods revolved around taking witness and suspect statements, and then working to verify what they were told, a process that remains at the heart of criminal investigation today. As of the date of this writing, the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office has reclassified the murders as an Active Case.
Paperback, 194 pages, 28 images.