by Ron Roizen and Francie Lane
Two murders and at least one attempted murder happened at Wallace’s stately Samuels Hotel over its 66-year history (1908-1974). Herman J. Rossi famously shot and killed Clarence “Gabe” Dahlquist in the hotel’s lobby on the evening of June 30, 1916. Ten years later, in a less well-known case nowadays, young Florence Jordan shot and mortally wounded E.J. Hicks. The homicide happened in a room on the hotel’s fourth floor during the evening of Monday, May 24, 1926. At the time, 17-year-old Florence was the wife of Charlie Jordan, a man in his early 40s. The couple had married 16 months earlier, on January 21, 1925, when Frances was just 15. Frances’s gave birth to a daughter in October, 1925, but the infant survived only two days.
Murky circumstances surrounded the Hicks’ shooting. Hicks, age 48, had a wife and three children. The family had resided in Kellogg for the past 10 years. Hicks ran a local auto stage (taxi or bus) service. He’d been paroled out of the prison at McNeil Island in Washington in October, 1923 after returning most of the loot he’d stolen in a March 28, 1922 mail pouch theft. Hicks, it appears, had romantic designs on Jordan—and she, from time to time, had been a passenger in his vehicle.
The evening of the shooting, Florence Jordan was alone in the hotel room; her husband was reportedly elsewhere in the hotel. She fired six or seven shots at Hicks, two or three striking him. “Yes, I shot him,” said Florence in a report in the next day’s press. “He insulted me and I emptied the gun into him. I guess he came up to my room to insult me. I had warned him time after time to leave me alone and I had to shoot him.”
Florence’s defense attorneys argued both self-defense and temporary insanity. The Idaho Statesman reported some of the defendant’s testimony from the stand on October 14, 1926:
“I was lying on the bed in my room about 7 o’clock on the night of May 24, when I heard a knock at the door,” said Mrs. Jordan. “Believing it to be my husband, I called for him to come in. It was Hicks who entered and he immediately began making improper advances. I ordered him to get out, but he continued toward me. I attempted to jump out of a fourth story window but didn’t have time to raise it. Then Hicks shouted, ‘come here, I want to love you.’” It was then the witness testified that she reached into the dresser drawer, procured the .38 caliber automatic and fired at Hicks.
Were Hicks’s words and actions sufficiently threatening to justify Florence’s deadly response? Florence recounted her history with Hicks from the stand. “Many observers,” said the next day’s Spokane Chronicle, “believe Mrs. Florence Jordan weakened her own case when she took the stand yesterday…” According to Florence, she’d first met Hicks on New Year’s Day, 1926. She was his lone passenger, and he’d asked her to sit on the front seat with him. Florence was traveling from Kellogg to Osburn to visit her parents. But, Hicks drove past Osburn to Wallace, and then up Burke Canyon to Frisco, and then back down to Woodland Park, where he stopped his vehicle “and embraced her several times, from which she tried to draw away.” Hicks finally delivered her to her Osburn destination.
Prudence might have dictated that Florence thereafter would have steered clear of Hicks. Yet, she recounted from the stand four additional encounters with him—on January 5th, 8th, 11th, and then “several weeks later.” The first of these appears to have constituted a sexual assault on Hicks’s part. On the 5th, in Kellogg, Florence testified she was walking along when Hick pulled up near the sidewalk and offered her a ride home. After some persuasion, Florence obliged and got in. Hicks however drove instead to an “oil station” where he bought her some candy. Then he told her they were going to take a ride to Pine Creek. Florence threated to jump from the moving vehicle, causing Hicks to accelerate. “At a point several miles below Kellogg,” said a Spokane Chronicle report, “he stopped under the pretense of repairing a tire and asked her to get into the back seat, which she did. Her clothing was torn from her and on the way back he threatened to kill her if she told any one of the incident, she testified.”
On “about January 8,” Florence further testified, she’d taken Hicks’s stage to Osburn, on which occasion Hicks “made improper proposals.” On the 11th, Florence refused Hicks’s invitation to enter his stage, she said, out of fear. He again warned her not to tell anyone about what had happened on the 5th. Several weeks later, Hicks invited Florence into his stage depot in Kellogg and she accepted his invitation. Nothing further was reported on what happened on that occasion at the depot.
On May 1st, Florence and her husband attended a church service in Portland, Oregon, where they were visiting. So moved was she by the sermon that she decided “to tell all.” On her knees, she confessed to her husband about her encounters with Hicks, Florence testified. Charlie became angry and his treatment of her, said Florence, thereafter was cold and cruel. On one occasion he choked her, saying he’d kill her. Sometime after the couple’s return from Portland, on May 12th, they booked a room at the Samuels Hotel. Twelve days later occurred the tragedy with Hicks.
Florence Jordan’s Shoshone County jury duly rendered a not guilty verdict on Thursday, October 14th. Many of the women in the courtroom audience wept on behalf of the defendant’s sad plight—a phenomenon observed at Herman J. Rossi’s trial ten years earlier. The jury was unanimous on its first ballot. Sounding one of the themes in “the unwritten law,” defense attorney V.T. Tustin thundered in his closing argument that “It was an act of eternal justice when Hicks fell dead across the threshold of the Jordan room.” He also told the jury that he would have advised his own wife to do what Florence had done were she confronted with the same situation.
Defense attorney H.J. Hull—the prosecutor in Rossi’s trial—also played on the jury’s heartstrings. He painted his client as a mere child victimized by two older and more worldly men—i.e., both Hicks and husband Charlie. Said the next day’s Spokesman-Review report: “He told the jury that a verdict of ‘not guilty’ world tell the world that a 40-year-old man could not take a girl wife and ruin her and get away with it.” Prosecutor Charles E. Horning’s warned the jury that a not guilty verdict would say to the world, “You can kill a man in Shoshone county and find the juries are friendly.” But Horning’s efforts were to no avail.
Florence, now freed, declined to accompany her husband to a restaurant, preferring instead to spend another night in the county jail and make her own arrangements the next day. She almost immediately filed for divorce. In October, 1929, she married a new husband only a year older than she.
Question after question still hangs unresolved over the case. Why had Florence and Charlie (or, perhaps, Florence alone) resided at the Samuels Hotel for 12 days? Why would husband Charlie have knocked on the door of his own, unlocked hotel room? How did Hicks’s body end up in the doorway, when Florence said she’d shot him because he was advancing toward her? What, exactly, had Florence confessed to Charlie on May 1st? The spirit of the times seems to have focused chiefly on the age disparity between Florence and the two middle-aged men (the press on occasion even termed them “elderly”). The girl-wife whose innocence had been “ruined” by two older and lustful men simply could not be punished for taking the life of one of them.