Biography of U.S. Labor Leader Joe Hill Part 2

About the United States labor leader and songwriter Joe Hill, biography and history of the man.


JOE HILL (1879-1915). Labor leader and songwriter.

That same night, Joe Hill appeared at the office of a local doctor with a bullet wound. He told the doctor that he had been shot in a quarrel over a woman and that, since he was partly responsible for the incident, he didn't want the authorities brought into it. The physician dressed the wound and sent Hill home. But he had second thoughts about his patient's request for silence, and three days later he told the Salt Lake City police about Hill's visit. The police went to Hill's boardinghouse and arrested him. Four suspects were already in jail when Hill was picked up. However, soon after his arrest they were all released.

The general feeling in Salt Lake City was that the murder of the Morrisons was a crime of revenge. More than once Morrison had been involved in a skirmish with criminals at his store. Additionally, he was a former member of the Salt Lake City police, and a few days before his murder he had stated that he was afraid of being attacked by some of the men he'd arrested. As far as anyone could tell, Hill had never met the grocer. Why, then, did suspicion focus so totally on Hill? Many people who studied the case thought that it was due in part to the anger felt toward the IWW. In Utah the Wobblies had been involved in some very bitter labor disputes, which had triggered intense hostility. Joe Hill's membership in this organization--and the fact that he was from outside the state--didn't enhance his image in the eyes of the local authorities.

The law's attitude toward Hill certainly wasn't rooted in the overwhelming strength of its case. The district attorney in his opening statement at the trial said that his evidence was circumstantial. His major witnesses were Morrison's 13-year-old son and three women who had seen a man resembling Hill near the store at the time of the killings. Not one of these four people, however, had definitely identified Hill as the man seen. Then two of the women significantly altered their testimony from what they had said at the preliminary hearing, somehow becoming far more confident--despite the passage of half a year's time--that the man they had seen was Hill. The state's case had other holes. It was never proved that one of Morrison's assailants had been wounded. Also, the police were unable to find in the store any spent bullets with the capacity to pass through a human body, even though the bullet that had wounded Hill had done just that.

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