While I'm grateful for the newspapers that help me piece together the story of my ancestors' lives, it can be frustrating to insure that all those pieces fall into place in the right way. Perhaps it's owing to my long-standing doubt of all sources journalistic. Sometimes, I wish I could interview the interviewer about the story he just scooped.
Of course, these may have been the very details puzzling the deputy sheriffs assigned to investigate the April 30, 1927, case of a man shot to death on an airfield in southern California. They certainly became the Gordian knot assigned to the jury trying the case in Los Angeles county courts—and even the difficulties causing the immigration authorities to tap dance while requesting a delay in the coroner's inquest. So I can hardly blame the newsmen trying to report the confusion at the outset.
Only the other day, I discovered this same murder victim was a fourth cousin to my mother-in-law—actually, the two facts came to me almost simultaneously, or else he would have been merely another name in my database with an unusually short lifespan.
To read the eyewitness reports of the incident leading up to A.J. Daugherty's death, the incident would indeed have seemed entirely unjustified. According to the mechanic at the airfield where the tragedy unfolded,
Daugherty had been learning to fly for some time.... He had been going up at noon and in the afternoon for some time, but the air traffic was heavy at these times and Chaney [the flight instructor and owner of the air field] decided to give him an early morning lesson.
What's not to identify with that scenario? I have friends here in town who wanted to learn to fly, and early morning lessons certainly are the usual occurrence, according to them.
On that particular morning, April 30, according to the mechanic, "They went up at 6 a.m. and landed at 6:30."
According to early reports of the inquest, quoting the instructor, Chaney,
I got up at 5 o'clock that morning, went to the airport and told Daugherty I was going to let him "solo" a while.... We took off and landed about three times. Sometimes he drove from the cockpit, and I drove from the back.
In the process of that touch and go exercise, "someone" opened fire. As the mechanic recalled,
I saw them sweep down on the field. I heard some shouting above the roar of their motor and then saw the inspectors raise 30-30 rifles to their shoulders and fire.
Somehow, Arthur James Daugherty got caught in the crossfire.
As incredible as the entire scene may have seemed, the reason for its occurrence was pinned on one accusation: that this student aviator and his instructor were actually suspected of involvement in smuggling—and not of the usual types of cargo, but of human beings.