Rossi Post 1.0: Dear readers — yes, all three of you — I’ve begun a new little research project. It addresses a notorious murder that occurred in Wallace a long time ago. I got roped into an interest in this case by accident. Actually, a succession of accidents. But roped I am, now, and I’m going to be posting posts, or extending or revising them, here at this blog as my research and scribbling continues forward. It’s a motivational trick I’m going to play on myself — that is, I hope seeing a day or two’s work posted here as my project progresses will in turn encourage me to keep on going. Thank you for your patience and understanding. — Ron
— See Roster of Rossi posts
It happened one hundred years ago — i.e., from now, in the year I sit down to write about this.
On the evening of June 30, 1916, in the booming mining town of Wallace, in northern Idaho, Herman J. Rossi, a widely respected businessman and a former mayor, strode into the lobby of the Samuels Hotel and shot Clarence “Gabe” Dahlquist, his young wife’s alleged lover. First reports were uncertain about the victim’s condition. Dahlquist had been taken to Providence Hospital and was reported as “resting easily” after the shooting. The victim died the following day, July 1. Newspaper reporters also didn’t know quite what to make of the shooting itself. What had occasioned it? Rossi would give no statement to the press. Rumors circulated however that “family troubles,” as it was courteously put, lay behind the behind the shocking incident.
More than three months would pass before any clear picture of the reasons for Rossi’s grave and violent crime would emerge. Then, like a photographic image slowly taking shape in the developer solution, the crime’s intimate history began to take form. Necessity, in this case, became the parent of revelation. Herman Rossi needed to tell his story as fully and effectively as possible in order to defend himself at his murder trial, which commenced on October 6, 1916. His wife, the young Mabel Rossi, had to do much the same in order to defend her name and her rights to an equitable property settlement in the divorce proceedings that ensued almost immediately after her husband’s murder trial ended. These two exigencies would soon place a ten-year saga of interpersonal turmoil, conflict, and anguish fully into the public’s view.
The shooting event itself – as we will see – was simple enough. A number of witnesses at Samuels Hotel’s lobby described it more or less the same way. But the stories that unfolded about the case in October, November, and December – after Rossi’s murder trial got underway — were anything but simple and uncomplicated. Beyond the interpersonal drama at hand, the accounts offered by the players in these events revealed and reflected a great deal about the tenor of the times and about the culture the players inhabited, both in lonely little Wallace and across a wider American cultural landscape. Herman J. Rossi, the husband, was a man fashioned after Teddy Roosevelt’s ideal of virile and uber-manly manhood. Mabel Price Rossi, in sharp contrast, might have been ripped from the tear-jerking pages of a contemporary temperance novel. Mr. Rossi struggled for years to keep young Mabel sober and free her from the grip of her “drink” habit. Mrs. Rossi, on the other hand, played out the part of an ingénue bride brought low by the fast crowd her marriage to a socially superior mate exposed her to. If Herman Rossi was T.R.’s manhood incarnate, then Mabel Rossi was Mary Pickford, brow cast downward because her upwardly mobile marriage had thrown her into John Barleycorn’s tight embrace. Here, then, was a gripping western melodrama very much of the times. From the audience, cheers of support and jeers of censure were, where appropriate, allowed and even encouraged.
Mr. Rossi’s murder trial ran from October 6 to 14. The jury would acquit him in “less than 20 minutes,” on grounds of temporary insanity. On hearing the verdict read out, the packed courtroom exploded in “deafening” (Tacoma Times, 10/16/16) cheers and applause; Rossi triumphantly slammed the tabletop in front of him with a heavy hand. Soon thereafter, with the ink on Rossi’s not guilty verdict still only barely dry, Herman Rossi sued Mabel Rossi for divorce, citing immorality and habitual intemperance. Mabel, on the other hand, declared her intention to fight the divorce and filed a countersuit. She claimed, among other things, that her husband was the one responsible for her downfall. These two two legal contests would bring out into the open two strikingly different pictures of the events leading up to the Clarence Dahlquist’s tragic murder.
There is quite a bit more to tell. Stay tuned.