Special Reports

The tale of "Trader" Horn

The 1930s was a hard time for many. "Hobos" rode the rails, some looking for work, some just looking for opportunity. This story began in 1935 with the death of a young man in Pasco.

From The Pasco Herald May 30, 1935

Remains of a man badly decomposed were discovered about noon Tuesday by a man dusting Mormon crickets east of the road to the Pasco cemetery and near the old airport. The body was brought to the undertaking parlors and a careful examination made to determine the means of his death and his identity.

Partial identification of the body was made Wednesday morning by men from the transient shelter. They did so by his clothes and stated they remembered him some time ago at the shelter. Two officers are working from this point and hope to be able to discover something leading to the solution of the mystery soon.

Twenty-four years later, the man convicted of the crime walked out of jail. He hadn't completed his sentence, he had finally received another chance in a different court, still in the Tri-Cities.

Published in the Tri-City Herald on June 21, 1959

Two years ago Horn dreamed he would again be a free man

By Matt Miletich, Herald staff writer

When Geither (Trader) Horn was in "the hole" at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla one day about two years ago he had a dream.

"I dreamt a dream. I had a dream come to me by Christ," he told a reporter in the minimum security building at the penitentiary, after a federal judge ordered his release on grounds he was illegally convicted of the first degree murder of a young man at Pasco 24 years earlier. Horn has been in jail or prison since then.

"The dream told me I was going to get out of prison. It told me I'd get out like I got in. I got in by the law and I'd get out by the law."

Here Horn explained, "I made the 'hole' more than any other prisoner here." His rambunctiousness reputation at the prison earned him a second nickname, "Wildcat."

Horn, who was 65 in 1959, said he was in the hole at least every 90 days "and sometimes in between" for disciplinary reasons. But the time the dream came was the last time and that was in 1957.

After the dream, Horn wrote a letter from the solitary confinement cell to Warden Bobby Rhay pleading to be let out of the bread-and-water ordeal before his time was up. "I promised to straighten out," Horn said.

The prisoner said the warden gave Horn the chance against the advice of an assistant. "I've been out of the hole two years now," Horn said proudly.

"Bobby Rhay is as good a warden as they ever had here," said the veteran inmate.

His attempt to gain his freedom on a writ of habeus corpus began after he was let out of solitary, Horn said. He enlisted the aid of a fellow inmate, Barney Ball, a lawyer who had helped several other prisoners get out on writs.

Without Ball's help, Horn's hopes probably would have been doomed from the start. He was without family, friends or money to hire a lawyer, and he could never have prepared a petition for a writ by himself, since he only learned to read and write a little in prison.

"The first thing we have to do," Horn said Bell instructed him, "is to get an affidavit."

Through a Catholic priest who visited the prison, Horn made contact with John Horrigan, a Pasco lawyer who was Horn's court-appointed attorney at his trial in Pasco in November, 1935.

Horrigan supplied the affidavit which laid the groundwork for the petition for a writ on grounds Horn was convicted on the basis of a confession which was coerced from him. During the trial, Horrigan challenged the admission of the confession into evidence on grounds of coercion, but the late Judge Matt Driscoll admitted it.

Horn filed his petition for a writ with the State Supreme Court, which found it was without merit after the record of the trail was reconstructed at a hearing in Pasco on Feb. 11, 1958. Horn, law officers, jurors and other principals in the trail testified then to reconstruct the record, as the original was lost.

After rejection by the Washington court, Horn filed his writ in the federal courts, and a hearing on the petition was held in Pasco in 1959 by Federal Judge Gus Solomon of Portland.

Here Horn repeated his story that has been his case in a macabre setting. He testified the confession to murdering the young man in 1935, a transient who was never identified, was "scared" out of him by law officers on a night visit to the Pasco cemetery.

"They opened the gate and walked me right into the cemetery," Horn said during his interview. "See that grave over there," they said, "that's where the boy is you killed."

"See that grave over there right beside him? We're going to bury you alive if you don't tell the truth. Tell us how you killed the boy."

"I said I'd be telling a lie. I didn't kill no boy."

Then he said, "That time (the third trip, he claims) I believe they meant to kill me. I said, I'll sign."

Retired state patrol captain Marvin Carnahan of Yakima, ex-sheriff N. J. Bailie of Franklin County and his deputy, Art Greenwood, admitted on the stand the purpose of taking Horn on a "ride" in a paddy wagon was to get a confession out of him.

They denied taking Horn to the cemetery but said they took him to the scene of the crime and stopped near the cemetery.

What took place during this stop, and the reason for it never was made clear in the testimony of the law officers, despite hard questioning by Judge Solomon. But by the time he was through hearing their testimony, which conflicted in places, Judge Solomon was angry and indignant.

His statements left little doubt that at the end of the hearing he would order Horn freed on grounds of coercion, being held 60 days before being given a lawyer and being denied a fair trail. The judge commented, however he thought Horn's story about the cemetery visit was "gross exaggeration."

Since the assistant attorney general filed oral notice of appeal against the decision to the circuit court at San Francisco, Horn still must remain in custody for an indefinite time.

Asked how he felt about the judge's decision Horn replied, "I feel good about it."

Asked if he is bitter at his imprisonment, he said, "Oh sure, after 24 years. I feel a hundred times bitter." His enthusiasm was so high that no bitterness was evident in his attitude.

Where does he plan to go and what will he do when he gets out? Horn said he'd go to Seattle where he has a friend, Joe Taylor, who "did time" at the penitentiary. Horn said he expects to get welfare support.

"I know Seattle pretty good," said Horn, who explained he worked as a shoeshine boy there and in Tacoma. "I don't know for sure what hotel I'll stop at yet," he added.

Horn was 41 years old when he went to prison and earned the names of "trader" because he bought and sold so much, and "Wildcat" for his disposition.

"I figured then I'd try to get out someday. I didn't think I'd do this much time," he said.

Then he added, "The parole board don't help you. The guy that is guilty is the one they help. Nobody would help. You heard what the judge told you. I didn't have any friends. Well, he's just about right.

"But I made up my mind not to worry. Someday I'd get out."

Most of his life before going to prison was spent hoboing, working in sawmills, in the railroad, shining shoes and boxing. He said he earned a pretty good reputation as a "hobo boxer."

"I boxed main events sometime at Friday night clubs but I didn't have no manager. You got to work your way up to the main event, from comic fights and curtain raisers and semi-windups."

Horn said he earned as high as $75-$100 for main events, pretty good money in the Depression.

He fought here and recalls knowing out a Tuffy Ross of Kennewick in their first bout, and getting decisioned by him the second time.

Although he was a professional hobo, Horn felt he had gained a lot just by being "up North." He said he worked in the cotton fields as a boy, "till I got big enough to leave the South I came North, hoboing. I finally crossed the Mason-Dixon line. I never been back since."

He was about 15 at the this time. He couldn't read and write, but an aunt and uncle had taught him the ABC's, he said. His parents died when he was a baby, and he lived with the aunt and uncle after being raised by his grandparents.

"My grandfather beat me, so I wouldn't stay. I transferred from one to the other till I was big enough to get out on my own." he was 13 when he joined the aunt and uncle.

Horn said his grandfather beat him because he didn't work enough on the farm. "We didn't get anything off but Sunday. We didn't get to play Saturday afternoon. I wanted to play like the rest of the kids.

"He went fishin' but we worked," Horn said of his grandfather."

His grandmother was "nice and good to me" and because of her he believes in God, Horn said.

"Before she died she said, 'I don't have to lay in no ground to go to heaven,'" Horn said his grandmother told him.

"I believe she know what she was talking about," Horn said. "When you die that is your judgment day."

Geither Horn, judged a murder by his fellow man, insists that he isn't. He repeats over and over, "I ain't killed nobody."

Judge Solomon said he was not passing on Horn's guilt or innocence, but on the manner of his trial.

When Geither Horn dies, that will be his judgment day.