On Oct. 19, 1915, three men went to the American Hotel at 15 Commercial Street in Salt Lake City. They were 52-year-old Mike Murphy, 26-year-old George Taintor, and 20-year-old Louis James Smith. It would change their lives forever.
Commercial Street, renamed Regent Street, was Salt Lake’s notorious red light district. Prostitutes and “sissy men” were begrudgingly tolerated by Salt Lake authorities as long as they confined their activities to the bawdy houses and saloons of Commercial Street.
Murphy and Taintor were transients living in Salt Lake City and passing through looking for work. Smith however was born in Utah to working-class people on the west side of Salt Lake City. His parents were Mormon immigrants who lived at 1014 Monroe Street [3rd West], an area near the Warm Springs bathhouse.
Smith also might have been a sort of hustler in his youth as that in 1918 his occupation given for the WWI draft board registration was “huckster.” A huckster was kind of person who sold small items usually door-to-door or from a stall.
It’s not at all clear how the three men hooked up, but that October evening the men rented a room at the American Hotel to get drunk. During the course of the evening, the men became intoxicated and Taintor had anal intercourse with Smith. Murphy may have held Smith down and watched. Taintor and Murphy were under the impression that Smith had consented to the sex but when the proprietor, Thomas E. Punkett, caught the men having sex, Smith told another story. Punkett was a manager of various flop houses in the city at different times and when he heard the sexual commotion in the room, he confronted the men and called the police. The young Smith told the police officer that he had been sodomized by the two men. The police told Smith to go to a physician and get evidence.
Smith, the next day, went to 42-year-old physician Dr. Hugh B. Sprague and was examined to prove that he had been sodomized. Dr. Sprague and he then went to the police and filed a complaint against Murphy and Taintor. The transients were arrested on Oct.21 and placed in the city jail on the felony charge of “unlawfully and feloniously commit the infamous crime against nature by then and there wilfully (sic), unlawfully and feloniously having carnal knowledge of the body of Louis Smith, the said Louis Smith being then and there a male person. Contrary to the provisions of the statute of the State aforesaid, in such cases made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the State of Utah.” Their bail was set at $1000 which the men could not raise, so they stayed in jail until their arraignment in December.
On Oct., Smith and Dr. Sprague testified against the accused pair before L.R. Martineau Jr., “a Committing Magistrate.” District Attorney E.O. Leatherwood then filed charges in the Third District Court as that crime was a felony under state law. While they sat in jail they heard the news that labor organizer Joe Hill had been executed on 19 November at the state penitentiary in Sugar House.
The two men were arraigned in the court of Hon. Charles W. Morse, Dec. 4. The following proceedings were had to-wit:
THE COURT: Mr. Taintor what plea do you make to this charge?
MR. TAINTOR: Plead guilty.
THE COURT: Mr. Murphy, what plea do you make?
“MR. MURPHY: Not guilty.
THE COURT: Mr. Murphy do you have an attorney?
MR. MURPHY: I have not.
THE COURT: Do you have the means with which to employ one?
MR. MURPHY: I have not.
THE COURT: Mr. Taintor do you desire the sentence of the court imposed upon you at this time?
MR. TAINTOR: Yes sir.
THE COURT: Mr. Taintor you were charged by the information of the District Attorney of this district with the crime of infamous crime against nature. To this charge you have entered a plea of guilty. Have you now any legal cause to show why judgments should not be pronounced against you?
MR. TAINTOR: I would like to say your Honor, if I had lived to be a 100 years old drunk or sober, I never would think of doing such a thing again. Next morning my mind was a blank what I had done. I had done things under the influence of liquor but never done anything serious.
THE COURT: Have you anything to say Mr. Leatherwood?
MR. LEATHERWOOD: All the State knows about this is practically set forth in the information and a letter from the county attorney’s office indicates these two men got a boy by the name of Louis Smith, residing at 1014 North Third West and took him to the American Rooming House in this city and I think the evidence will show that both parties had been drinking some but I am informed that they apparently were only slightly intoxicated.
THE COURT: Do you know of anything of the past history or life of this man; ever been accused of any offense before?
MR. LEATHERWOOD: I do not. I talked to Mr. Murphy. I am not sure whether I talked to Mr. Taintor or not. They are both transients and it is the first offense as far as their story is concerned.
THE COURT: It is the judgment of the court that the defendant George Taintor be confined in the state prison of the State of Utah at hard labor.
Judge Morse then remanded Taintor into the custody of John S. Corless, sheriff of Salt Lake County and “and deliver him without delay to the warden of the state prison.”
Taintor explained later in a letter to the Board of Pardons that he “only plead guilty to the charge to avoid the humiliation of a trial upon such a charge.” He also wrote he “was told by Mr. Leatherwood that by pleading guilty and if I save the state the expense of a trial I would be given a light sentence.” His light sentence was two years at hard labor.
Mike Murphy having plead not guilty was appointed D. L. Olsen as his attorney. His trial was set for the first week in January, 1916. At the trial his attorney argued that Smith had actually consented to the sex and therefore was an accomplice. Puckett, the proprietor of the Monroe Hotel, testified he had called Salt Lake police officer Jorgensen to whom “Louis Smith accused George Taintor and Michel Murphy of violating him.” Evidence given from Dr. Sprague’s examination of Smith’s posterior convinced the jury to convict Murphy of the crime of committing “the infamous crime against nature by then and there having carnal knowledge of the body of Louis Smith, a male person.”
Charles W. Morse, judge of the court stated “the judgment and sentence of this court is that you Mike Murphy be confined and imprisoned in the state prison in and for the State of Utah for an indeterminate term. On Jan. 19, 1916, he was sent to prison to join Taintor.