Florence E. Hay, who called herself Birdie DeRacey, was a well-traveled prostitute. While in Nevada, she worked in Reno, Goldfield, Rawhide, Lovelock, and was in Winnemucca when Joseph D. Carroll met her. They fell in love.
Joe was an Elko businessman, a liquor distributor, gambler and bar owner. It meant nothing that he was married and had a daughter. He talked Birdie into moving to Elko where she went to work at "Mother" Mason's house of ill repute.
The two lovers met frequently at Mother's and often went out south of town to Elko Hot Springs Hotel, off Bullion Road, to have a few hours to themselves.
Joe pressured Birdie to let him manage her money. She gave him a set of diamond earrings to sell. He was supposed to put her money and the proceeds from the sale of the earrings in the bank in her name. She also gave him other valuable earrings to store in a safe deposit box.
Then, the inevitable happened. In Birdie's line of work venereal diseases are all too common. Joe rushed her to Ogden, Utah. She was treated and had surgery to remove a tumor caused by her disease. Back then, treatment for her malady was mercury. Seems like the cure might have been worse than the sickness. She returned to Elko where they tried to resume their close relationship. But Birdie was weakened, both physically and mentally.
This didn't please Joe and he decided to get rid of her, calling her burned out. She found out about his plans and decided to get her money from him. She planned to sail to Hong Kong, China, to begin a new life. Why Hong Kong? We'll never know.
They met to end their relationship. In their heated argument, he called her a really bad name relating to her job. Carroll told her he was a man of fine standing in town and that he was not going to give her anything. She left in tears.
Birdie thought things over. She walked over to the W.T. Smith store where she bought a pistol. When she pushed through the swinging doors of Joe Carroll's Elk Saloon at 450 Commercial Street, she saw her former lover at the end of the bar polishing his diamond ring. She asked the bartender to send Joe to the wine room. Some drinking establishments had a room where women drank wine, out of site of the bar proper.
He came in and they had another verbal battle. He called her a nasty name. Then repeated it. That's when she took the pistol from her hand bag and shot him in the back.
Joe staggered into the bar room shouting, "I'm shot!"
DeRacey pushed open the door of the wine room and calmly asked, "Is there an officer in the house? Send him to me."
Birdie was a woman who thought ahead. When arrested, she told the lawman to get her suitcase. It was already packed with a few things she needed and a lot of crocheting and knitting so she would have something to keep busy while in jail. Just like her packed bag, the murder was, evidently, premeditated. To shoot someone in the back was also a big no no in the American West.
During her trial the defense pointed out that her mother had several attacks of insanity. An aunt was insane and her father and grandfather committed suicide. It didn't matter, the locals were already on the side of Birdie and had decided she did an excellent job when she "did the pimp in."
When the jury had heard all the testimony and closing arguments, they deliberated only a few minutes and came in with a not guilty verdict.
Birdie left town heading back home to Canada. Not Hong Kong?
Note: Machi's, a local favorite restaurant, now occupies 450 Commercial Street. Prior to that, the building housed the Elko Independent, a weekly newspaper.
Source: Sagebrush Doctors, Edna B. Patterson, 1972, Art City Publishing Co., Springville, Utah.
©Copyright 2008 by Howard Hickson.