Law & Order ~ Can Mrs. Whitt Match Wits with Cochran?

6.5.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.1.2017]

On May 16, 1907, Allan Whitt was shot and died almost instantly.  There were three individuals with Whitt at the time of the incident.  Mrs. Mary Whitt – his wife, Fred Anderson – a neighbor and Dave Cochran – a neighbor.  Who fired the fatal shot, and why?

Cochran Fired Shot Says Coroner’s Jury ~ Bemidji Daily Pioneer 5-24-1907

“Grand Rapids, Minn., May 24 (Special to Pioneer.) – Coroner Russell unexpectedly held an inquest yesterday in the case of David Cochran, a prominent attorney, who is accused of murdering Allen Whitt, a homesteader, residing near Deer River.  The verdict was that Whitt came to his death as the result of a bullet wound, shot from a gun held in the hands of the defendant, David Cochran.”

Cochran Hearing is Held Yesterday ~ Itasca News 6-1-1907

“The preliminary hearing of David Cochran for the killing of Allan Whitt near Wirt, came up at the Rapids yesterday morning.  The case had not been finished last night, and it was expected that it would be completed today but up to the time of going to press no news of the decision had been received.

Cochran is accused of having killed Allen Witt a week ago at the house of Fred Anderson near Wirt.  Cochran claims that the shooting was in self defense.

The story which comes as near the truth, probably, as any, is to the effect that Anderson and Cochran were to locate Whitt on a claim and while on their way to it they had a quarrel in which it is alleged Whitt said he would shoot Cochran.  Late in the day while Cochran was cleaning his gun, Whitt is alleged to have come to the house and Anderson, who was in the rear end of the room heard him say he was going to shoot Cochran.  He heard a shot and then another following.  It seems that Whitt had fired through the door and Cochran had also shot through the door, his bullet entering Whitt’s heart.”

So, the two questions answered.  Cochran fired the fatal shot and stated the reason was self-defense. Anderson’s testimony concurred with the above explanation, but that of Mrs. Mary Whitt did not.  In fact, after her testimony, Fred Anderson was also arrested.  Both men were charged with murder in the first degree, a charge to which each replied, “not guilty,” when the indictment was read.

In the weeks between the indictment and the trial, “there were sides to this case.  The people in Deer River and along forty miles of railroad to Wirt, where the tragedy was enacted, believed the story Cochran told them: that he killed Whitt purely in self defense.

On the other side, the woman in the case, claiming to be the wife of Whitt, claimed that only one shot was fired, that by Cochran, and that the other shot passing through the house and out the rear window was done long after the first shot, by Cochran or his friends, to be claimed in defense.  At Grand Rapids this story carried… and a few men could be found at Grand Rapids who did not believe the plain ‘straight’ story of the woman, or who would believe Cochran would be free.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

Thursday, July 18, 1907, the trial was to begin with the selection of the jury.  Prosecuting attorney Thwing made a motion to dismiss the defendant, Cochran and his alleged accessory, Anderson.  George H. Spear, the attorney for Cochran, was diligent in his cross-examination and brought up several points that caused the state to do some investigating on their only witness. 

“By crossing herself several times in the stories the woman told prosecuting attorney Thwing, that official was led to believe that the case would be lost, and he made a searching investigation as to her character and became thoroughly convinced that further trial with only her as state’s witness would be useless expense and time.” Itasca News 7-20-1907

The reasons for the motion to dismiss included:

[1] Mrs. Whitt was in fact, not the wife of the deceased, but had been married to Harry Rosen. “The claim that she was the wife of Whitt was naturally a very material fact for the state, especially since she said she was the only witness to the tragedy, and that as Whitt died [she said] he murmured, ‘My wife.’”

[2] Witness’ testimony regarding the shot lodged in the window sill (which the defendant claimed was filed by Whitt) did not make sense.  “The Rosen woman swore in the preliminary trial that only one shot was fired, and that was Cochran’s.  She claimed that the other shot must have been made the next day and aimed through the window back of where Cochran stood.  It was on this story that the falsity of the woman was proven, as well as her lie that she was the wife of the dead man.”

[3] Witness had a questionable past. “The defense also was in a position to show that the woman was known all through Northern Wis.; that she had participated in various escapades at Cadott and Abbottsford, and also Curtis and Chippewa Falls; that her husband was Harry H. Rosen, who obtained a divorce from her in the district court of Hennepin county in April of this year, on the ground that she had committed statutory offenses with Allen Whitt, Geo. Stacy, Tony Olson and other persons.”

After hearing the basis for the dismissal request from the prosecution, Judge McClenahan immediately discharged the two innocent men and ordered the woman jailed and to be held for trial for perjury.

Cochran and Anderson Freed ~ Itasca News 7-20-1907

County Attorney Moves Dismissal.  Whitt Woman Jailed on Perjury Charge

“…Those who knew Cochran best believed in him, and they said the law of nature did the work well.  As evidence, the woman now occupies the cell he vacated, and a trial for perjury may land her in prison.  This was one case the newspapers can gladly say they did not try.

Judge Cochran is known in Minnesota, having lived in Wright country for twenty-five years before coming to Deer River two years ago, and in Wright county was judge of probate for many years… Mr. Cochran and his daughter arrived at Deer River yesterday, and the judge has been busy receiving congratulations and thanking his many friends for the kind assistance they tendered him in his trial.”

1 Comment

  1. Vickie says:

    What an interesting story!


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