Monday, December 8, 2014

William Reno Escapes Imprisonment for Sodomy — Eventually

"We charged him on the wrong thing"
isn't actually a technicality
It seems that William Reno was already known to the police when he was arrested on December 7, 1910. In 1908, he plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced from six months to two years imprisonment. The East Oregonian said that Reno “shot a companion named Goodell about three weeks ago as the outcome of a drunken spree.” But he wasn’t just a fighter. Most of the articles on him, are of a quite different nature.

His 1910 arrest didn’t involve any weapons, as far as we can tell from the news reports. Instead, he was arrested for sodomy.[1] The article seems to be inaccurate on several counts, one of which is in describing the other person involved as a “boy,” which strikes me as a little inaccurate for an eighteen-year-old.[2] I don’t know if Oregon had a different age of consent in 1910, but but I think we can be certain that it was no lower than 18 (which it is now). In 1910, no one could legally consent to gay sex, still the East Oregonian’s use of the word “pederasty” seems somewhat misapplied.

The article in the December 8, 1910 paper was just the start of things. I will warn you here: the conclusion came thirteen months later in January 1912. Let’s start with 1910:
Arrested on Serious Charge.
William Reno, a resident of Umatilla was brought down to the county jail last evening charged with pederasty, a form of sodomy. The object of his unnatural assault was Roy Orton, an 18 year old boy, who was also brought down to appear against Reno.
I’d like to note that it’s good that the police weren’t being people in on frivolous charges. That’s comforting. Then, pederasty is that form of sodomy between two men, one underaged. We just call it “child molestation” now. There are (sad) stories of child molestation in these old newspaper accounts; I skip over them because there’s just nothing good to say there. But with an eighteen-year-old, we have the possibility that the whole thing was consensual, in which case in 2014 Oregon, the parents of the eighteen-year-old might be saying, “don’t you think he’s a little old for you dear?” But beyond that, what would you get?

There didn’t seem to be a William Reno or a Roy Orton in Umatilla County in 1910. But there’s a single man named William Reno in Baker, Oregon, age of thirty-one. And there’s an eighteen-year-old Roy Orton in Spokane. The next day, the East Oregonian ran a correction:
Not Residents of Umatilla.
A prominent citizen of Umatilla writes this paper stating that William Reno, was was arrested for sodomy, and Roy Orton, his victim, are not residents of Umatilla and asks that the statement to that effect be corrected. He characterizes them as hoboes and says that the fair name of the little railroad city has suffered much and often for the actions of these transients. The East Oregonian gladly corrects the error, which was quite unintentional.
Got that: any sodomy in Umatilla is done by non-residents. The locals would never do such a thing. Mr. Reno plead not guilty on January 13, 1911. On Saturday, January 21, 1911, things heated up again. By this point, Mr. Reno had been incarcerated 46 days. He was appointed a lawyer, S. A. Newberry, with the trial set to start on January 24. The day before the trial is to start, we hear from the grand jury all over again.

Grand Jury Reports.
At 2:30 this afternoon the grand jury reported to the court. William Reno, was was indicted once for sodomy, was re-indicted on the charge of attempted sodomy, and one other indictment was returned, but because the person accused has not been taken into custody, his name is withheld.
Was this Orton? Or was it an unrelated case? While we might expect a lawyer in 1910 to throw his client to the mercy of the court, this is not what happened. That strange bit where the grand jury changed the indictment the day before. That was irregular, wasn’t it? The man had been incarcerated for forty-eight days and then they suddenly decide to change the charge?
Sodomy Case Held Up.
Through an oversight, the sodomy case in which William Reno is the defendant may not be presented to the jury. After the state had finished with its testimony, Attorney S. A. Newberry arose and filed a motion that the case not be taken to the jury, alleging as his grounds that the defendant had not been given an opportunity to plead which is a violation of the law, and he cited a case appealed to the supreme court in which Justice King had written an opinion holding that that the defendant was entitled to a new trial on the same ground.

The records showed that Reno had been indicted for sodomy, had been arraigned and had pleaded not guilty, but had been re-indicted on the charge of attempted sodomy, had been arraigned but had not pleaded, the case having been brought to trial on the attorneys both signifying their readiness. At 2:30 Judge Phelps ordered a recess to allow Attorney Newberry to secure a copy of Justice King’s opinion.

The evidence as presented by the state makes a pretty conclusive case against Reno, and, in the opinion of many who heard it, any jury in the country would convict him of the unnatural crime of which he is charged.
The problem here is, “which crime?” Are they saying that any jury would convict him of attempted sodomy, because he was charged with sodomy, not attempted sodomy. While the East Oregonian describes it as a "technicality," getting charged with something the state decides it can't actually prove is something quite different. This was not when he escaped imprisonment for sodomy. That comes later. The next day, with a new jury, Reno was found guilty of attempted sodomy and sent to prison for two and a half years. One day later, January 26, 1911 (his fourth consecutive day in the newspaper), it was reported that
Reno Was Ex-Convict.
William Reno, the man who was yesterday convinced of sodomy and sentence to two and one-half years in the penitentiary, will not be thrown into strange quarters when he is taken to Salem, for it appears that he has a prison record behind him. From a letter received by Chief of Police Gurdane, the man evidently has friends in New York but they were under the impression that he was indicted on a charge of burglary. When taken form the court room yesterday, after sentence had been passed on him, Reno turned toward Marshal Stevens of Umatilla, who had been one of the principal witnesses of the state against him, and cursed him fiercely. The man has proved himself to be a vicious character and the community is well rid of him.
Here we get this one small bit of additional information. The state’s witness wasn’t Roy Orton (who seems largely forgotten in this narrative, though I haven’t forgotten him), but Marshall Stevens. Did Stevens catch Reno and Orton in the act? Without Orton claiming that the dangerous Mr. Reno coerced or forced him into it, don’t we get to assume that it might have been consensual?

There are a few days before Reno was in the papers again on February 1, 1911, in an article on prisoners being transferred to the penitentiary.
Reno will probably have the shortest time to serve and he is undoubtably the hardest character of the three. At one time he served a sentence in the Washington penitentiary at Walla Walla and last night confessed that at the age of 19 he was sentenced to Sing Sing for a term of five years. He is known to have several aliases, among them being Will Berger and Yorky Bill, the latter being the name under which he goes among the yeggmen.[3] He is proficient in his use of the slum vernacular and to anyone interested in this particular class of humanity, a conversation with him would prove extremely edifying. Reno was convicted of attempted sodomy, the case coming here from Umatilla, and he was given the maximum sentence of tow and half years for his offense. That he is not totally without a sense of shame was evinced last night when he broke down of the first time since his imprisonment not, he explained, because he was being “sent over,” but because of the nature of the crime for which he was sentenced to prison.
In his remorse for the “nature of the crime,” could it be that this was one crime that didn’t feel like one? By 1910, there are reports of men who are clearly willing participants at gay sex. I found a story from 1900 in which a sixteen-year-old was accusing adult men of sodomy, and it wasn’t his first time. And in 1901, Joseph Caspar, was a twenty-year-old man found in bed with a somewhat older man (probably 30s). Long before that was Joseph Carp, who in 1883 was saying that his “excessive passions were unlike those of other men.” Was William Reno sad because they treated loving men as badly as robbing them?

In any case, he got away. I promised you that this story would end in January 1912, and in the last story I was only up to February 1911. Here’s what the East Oregonian reported on January 18, 1912:
Reno Escapes From Pen.
William Reno, the man who was sentenced to the penitentiary for sodomy committed at Umatilla, escaped from the penitentiary guards several days ago with another convict while doing roadwork. Sheriff Taylor has been notified of the escape and is on the lookout for the fugitive but does not believe he will come this way.
William Reno got away. I don’t know what happened to him after that. My guess is that wherever he landed, he never used the name William Reno again. As for Roy Orton (I haven’t forgotten him), he never married. Or, if he did, he waited a long time. In 1930, he’s listed as being forty (but really thirty-eight) and still living with his parents. He seems to vanish after that. Maybe he ran off to be with William Reno. It’s a stretch.

  1. An article about sodomy on Imp of the Diverse? That never happens, does it?  ↩
  2. Handy tip: don’t tell eighteen-year-old males that they are “boys,” no matter how much older you are.  ↩
  3. Could the Beatles have been singing “I am the yeggman”? A safe-cracker, according to Wiktionary.  ↩

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