Frank Oxman

Frank Oxman

Frank Oxman was born on a farm near Grayville, Illinois. In around 1900 he moved to Durkee, Oregon, where he became a cattleman. He became fairly successful but was accused of fraud on several occasions and was indicted for obtaining property by false pretense. He admitted the charge and the property was returned to its owner. He was also accused of lying when he gave evidence in a court case in 1914 involving the Oregon and Washington Railroad and Navigation Company.

On 22nd July, 1916, Oxman claimed was watching a march through the streets of San Francisco in favour of an improvement in national defence. During the march a bomb went off in Steuart Street killing six people (four more died later). Oxman later claimed he saw two men get out of a jitney bus with a large suitcase. The men, who he identified as being Warren Billings and Tom Mooney, left the suitcase on the sidewalk where the explosion took place.

Oxman made several contradictory statements to the police. At first he said that that the suitcase was left on Washington Street. This was then changed the location to the corner of Steuart Street. He also gave different versions concerning the number of men in the jitney. He also said that the two men who had the suitcase were "talking in a foreign language and I could not understand what was said." After he identified the men as Billings and Mooney he changed this part of the story.

The evidence of Oxman and John McDonald played a major role in the conviction of Tom Mooney. However, Oxman had lied about being in San Francisco on 22nd July, 1916. Eventually two men, Edgar Rigall and Earl K. Hatcher, came forward and provided evidence that Oxman was 200 miles away during the bombing and could not have seen what he told the court at Mooney's trial.

In November 1920, Draper Hand of the San Francisco Police Department, went to Mayor James Rolph and admitted that he had helped District Attorney Charles Fickert and Martin Swanson to frame Mooney and Billings. Hand also confessed that he had helped Oxman construct his story of seeing Mooney and Billings place the suitcase on Steuart Street.

Primary Sources

(1) John Densmore's report on the Mooney and Billings Case was passed to the Secretary of Labor in November 1917.

As one reads the testimony and studies the way in which the cases were conducted one is apt to wonder at many things - at the apparent failure of the district attorney's office to conduct a real investigation at the scene of the crime; at the easy adaptability of some of the star witnesses; at the irregular methods pursued by the prosecution in identifying the various defendants; at the sorry type of men and women brought forward to prove essential matters of fact in a case of the gravest importance; at the seeming inefficacy of even a well-established alibi; at the sangfroid with which the prosecution occasionally discarded an untenable theory to adopt another not quite so preposterous; at the refusal of the public prosecutor to call as witnesses people who actually saw the falling of the bomb; in short, at the general flimsiness and improbability of the testimony adduced, together with a total absence of anything that looks like a genuine effort to arrive at the facts in the case.

These things, as one reads and studies the complete record, are calculated to cause in the minds of even the most blasé a decided mental rebellion. The plain truth is, there is nothing about the cases to produce a feeling of confidence that the dignity and majesty of the law have been upheld. There is nowhere anything even remotely resembling consistency, the effect being that of patchwork, of incongruous makeshift, of clumsy and often desperate expediency.

It is not the purpose of this report to enter into a detailed analysis of the evidence presented in these cases - evidence which, in its general outlines at least, is already familiar to you in your capacity as president, ex officio, of the Mediation Commission. It will be enough to remind you that Billings was tried first; that in September 1916, he was found guilty, owing largely to the testimony of Estelle Smith, John McDonald, Mellie and Sadie Edeau, and Louis Rominger, all of whom have long since been thoroughly discredited; that when Mooney was placed on trial, in January of the year following, the prosecution decided, for reasons which were obvious, not to use Rominger or Estelle Smith, but to add to the list of witnesses a certain Frank C. Oxman, whose testimony, corroborative of the testimony of the two Edeau women, formed the strongest link in the chain of evidence against the defendant; that on the strength of this testimony Mooney was found guilty; that on February 24, 1917, he was sentenced to death; and that subsequently, to wit, in April of the same year, it was demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that Oxman, the prosecution's star witness, had attempted to suborn perjury and had thus in effect destroyed his own credibility.

The exposure of Oxman's perfidy, involving as it did the district attorney's office, seemed at first to promise that Mooney would be granted a new trial. The district attorney himself, Mr. Charles M. Fickert, when confronted with the facts, acknowledged in the presence of reputable witnesses that he would agree to a new trial. His principal assistant, Mr. Edward A. Cunha, made a virtual confession of guilty knowledge of the facts relating to Oxman, and promised, in a spirit of contrition, to see that justice should be done the man who had been convicted through Oxman's testimony. The trial judge, Franklin A. Griffin, one of the first to recognize the terrible significance of the expose, and keenly jealous of his own honor, lost no time in officially suggesting the propriety of a new trial. The attorney general of the state, Hon. Ulysses S. Webb, urged similar action in a request filed with the Supreme Court of California.

Matters thus seemed in a fair way to be rectified, when two things occurred to upset the hopes of the defense. The first was a sudden change of front on the part of Fickert, who now denied that he had ever agreed to a new trial, and whose efforts henceforth were devoted to a clumsy attempt to whitewash Oxman and justify his own motives and conduct throughout. The second was a decision of the Supreme Court to the effect that it could not go outside the record in the case - in other words, that judgment could not be set aside merely for the reason that it was predicated upon perjured testimony.

There are excellent grounds for believing that Fickert's sudden change of attitude was prompted by emissaries from some of the local corporate interests most bitterly opposed to union labor. It was charged by the Mooney defendants, with considerable plausibility, that Fickert was the creature and tool of these powerful interests, chief among which are the Chamber of Commerce and the principal public-service utilities of the city of San Francisco. In this connection it is of the utmost significance that Fickert should have entrusted the major portion of the investigating work necessary in these cases to Martin Swanson, a corporation detective, who for some time prior to the bomb explosion had been vainly attempting to connect these same defendants with other crimes of violence.

Since the Oxman exposure, the district attorney's case has melted steadily away until there is little left but an unsavory record of manipulation and perjury, further revelations having impeached the credibility of practically all the principal witnesses for the prosecution. And if any additional confirmation were needed of the inherent weakness of the cases against these codefendants, the acquittal of Mrs. Mooney on July 26, 1917, and of Israel Weinberg on the 27th of the following October would seem to supply it.

These acquittals were followed by the investigation of the Mediation Commission and its report to the President under date of January 16, 1918. The Commission's report, while disregarding entirely the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused, nevertheless found in the attendant circumstances sufficient grounds for uneasiness and doubt as to whether the two men convicted had received fair and impartial trials.

Ordinarily the relentless persecution of four or five defendants, even though it resulted in unmerited punishment for them all, would conceivably have but a local effect, which would soon be obliterated and forgotten. But in the Mooney case, which is nothing but a phase of the old war between capital and organized labor, a miscarriage of justice would inflame the passions of laboring men everywhere and add to a conviction, already too widespread, that workingmen can expect no justice from an orderly appeal to the established courts.

Yet this miscarriage of justice is in process of rapid consummation. One man is about to be hanged; another is in prison for life; the remaining defendants are still in peril of their liberty or lives, one or the other of which they will surely lose if some check is not given to the activities of this most amazing of district attorneys.

(2) Earl Hatcher was interviewed by Frank Oxman's attorney in October 1918.

Jim I lied to you in San Francisco last year when you asked me if Oxman was down there when that explosion took place. He was not there at that time any more than you was. He ate dinner at my house that day and never left Woodland until after a o'clock. He never got to San Francisco until after 5 o'clock that evening.

I have stood up for Oxman and been loyal to him because I considered him one of my best friends, but he has turned me down cold. It hurt me like the devil Jim to think he would treat me the way he has. Have written him several letters reminding him of his moral obligation to me. Some of them he doesn't even answer. He has made me lots of promises to help me out and every appeal I have made to him he has evaded. Jim I got my little wife to stand by the old man when he was in trouble. She lied to those attorneys when they came to Woodland, just to help Oxman.

Every thing has gone wrong with me this year and I could not make a dollar. When I asked Oxman for a loan to help feed and clothe my wife and babies he turned me down. Does that look right. If I had gone on the stand and told what I know, Oxman would be in the State Prison today.

(3) Draper Hand, statement to Mayor James Rolph about a meeting with Frank Oxman (November, 1920)

Swanson sent for me and asked me to take Oxman to the North End station and show him Weinberg's auto. They had taken the car out there. I took Oxman to see the car. It was his first and only sight of the car. Oxman was very much concerned, when he saw the car, to find out if it were possible for a man to sit in it and hold a suitcase as he was going to describe in court. He had me get in the car and let my hand hang down over the side, as if I were holding a suitcase. He wasn't satisfied till I got in and did as he wanted; after that he thought his version was all right - that the defense wouldn't prove it impossible.

There wasn't any license plate on the car when I took Oxman to see it. If the plate had been there it would be bad for the prosecution if Oxman were asked if he hadn't got the number when he saw the car at the police station. Cunha had had the plate taken off that car. It was in a drawer in an inner office at the station. Cunha told me to copy the number. I did that and gave it to him. As far as I know Oxman never saw the license plate itself.