Romance and Murder in Prohibition-Era Colville

A 1930 murder in Colville and a He-Said, She-Said Trial

A family argument led to a mother's death and a daughter's arrest--but who really killed Susie Moses?

In September of 1929, the people of northeastern Washington were shocked to read of a dark murder of a mother, supposedly by her own daughter.

Susie Moses was killed with a 22 caliber rifle. Her body was found in some bushes in the back of her home. The suspects that were at the scene of the crime were Susie’s daughter Helen Moses and her boyfriend at the time, Clarence Hartley age 25. Susie and Helen were Native Americans, members of the Colville Tribe.

The two suspects were brought to trial soon after, Helen being the main suspect. Helen Moses and her mother were members of the Colville Tribe. The sensational case was popular fodder for the newspapers of the time. "State Hits Hard in Murder Case" blared a headline in the Spokesman-Review. "Legal Tilts are Hot." Newspaper coverage often focused on Helen, whose bobbed hair and fashionable flapper-era dresses made an impression on reporters.

The courtroom held more than 500 people when the trial began on March 12th, 1930. Though Helen had admitted to the murder at the time of her arrest, her story was completely different at the trial She claimed her boyfriend Clarence Hartley was the one who was guilty. She did admit she was in a fight with her mother but claimed that her mother was beating her with a rock. That, she said, is when Clarence Hartley fired the shot and killed her mother. Helen testified that Hartey threatened her to not tell officials that he had been the one who shot her mother or else he'd kill her.

Hartley was in a tough spot. The young man already had a record, having served two terms in state reformatory school in Monroe forgery and for 2nd-degree burglary. But Helen's testimony was undermined when it was discovered that the two had been exchanging love letters since their arrests. If Hartley had threatened to kill Helen, why would she send letters to him with sayings such as “ Sweetheart o Mine?"

Hartley testified that Helen shot her mother, and that “Helen killed her mother to get her out of the way”. He confessed that he threw the weapon into the Columbia River.

There were two witnesses, the first being Hartley's mother. She testified that she had heard by a friend that Susie often repeated that she “would kill Helen if she didn't quit running around”. The next witness was a friend of Helen, Mrs. Mary Agustus, who testified that Helen was at her home the night of the incident and Helen told her a white man had murdered her mother.

After months of trial, on March 15, the two lovers were both found guilty of second-degree murder. Hartley was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in the penitentiary. Helen was sentenced to 10 to 12 years. "Indian Flapper and White Sweetheart Doomed to Prison on Slaying Charge," blared a headline in The Montana Standard. The newspaper went on to report that "Tears dribbled down the wrinkled cheeks of the girl's tribesmen" as they heard the verdict. "The gaudy blankets, dark skins, and moccasins of hundreds of Indians made a dramatic background for the startling exchange of charges."

Clarence Hartley was released in 1940 and got married in Spokane. Records found that he did not stay out of trouble for long, six years later he was charged for transporting his wife to Idaho for prostitution. He died in 1972.

Helen was released in 1934 and married an official of the Colville Indian association Barney Rickard. Helen died in 1991 and her husband Rickard in 1985.

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