Friday, May 26, 2017

Fixing Responsibility: the Rush to Conclude

On April 30, 1927—the same day Ohioan Arthur James Daugherty was shot and killed while attempting to land his plane in Gardena, California—a local newspaper reported that four immigration inspectors "claimed that they had been assigned to catch smugglers of Chinese from Tia Juana."

That very day, the United Press news wire service had picked up the story and spread it far and wide, at least throughout the state of California, for—with discrepancies, of course—that basic story could be found on the same day in publications as far north as Healdsburg (where, however, the number of federal agents had been reduced to three).

A shooting death such as this required, of course, a response by local law enforcement. Tasked with that duty at the scene of the incident in Gardena was the sheriff for Los Angeles County. The proper procedure was quickly attended to, and preparations for the sheriff's inquest were reported in the news by May 2.

By this time, three aviators were named as suspects in a smuggling ring, and a statement revealed that ten Chinese immigrants were being smuggled into the country from Tijuana, Mexico. The International News Service report carried by the Oxnard, California, Press-Courier that day also mentioned the curious admission that "the Federal men set a 'trap' and shot only when Chaney [the student pilot's instructor] tried to escape."

However, that same day, a different wire service—United Press—reported in a story carried in the Berkeley Daily Gazette that the Los Angeles County coroner had postponed the inquest in response to a request by the federal immigration authorities. The delay would permit the federal office the time they needed to produce witnesses from San Diego who were supposedly key in fingering Daugherty as part of a smuggling ring.

By the time of this report, the number of aviators—each of them named—had increased from three to seven. They were by now characterized as members of a smuggling ring.

The inquest proceedings opened the next day, May 3. By this time, the feds had produced two men, identified as operators of a Tijuana bus line. In their testimony, they were able to positively identify two of the seven airmen "held on suspicion" as men they had met at a ranch in Mexico, but could not provide any further explanation as to how the Chinese aliens were transported to America, nor could they identify any of the planes supposedly used in the suspected operation.

That, at least, was the report provided in a newspaper up north in Berkeley, California. Meanwhile, closer to the hearing itself, a Santa Ana newspaper dated that same May 3 reported that two federal agents "were completely exonerated in connection with the flier's death." This conclusion, delivered by a coroner's jury, was returned after only thirty minutes' deliberation.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Director announced the arrest of six Chinese immigrants with "positive evidence that they had been smuggled across the border."


  1. You have found another fascinating story.

    1. Sometimes, Wendy, I wonder: "How do these things happen?" It seems this family has far exceeded its quota of unbelievable escapades. But then, I wonder how much searching it would take to uncover unusual stories in other people's family lines as well. I think the stories are out there...


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