San Quentin Prisoner Marshall J. Miller

By Brian K. Crawford

Marshall J. Miller mugshot, San Quentin State Prison. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

arshall Miller was born in Ohio around 1845. He had an adventurous youth, traveling widely around the United States and Mexico. He married, but his wife died young. He lived in the Arizona Territory for some time, then came to northern California. He worked as a miner in Nevada County, then worked on a ranch. In 1895 he settled in Marysville in Yuba County and opened a barber shop on Second Street. By then he was fifty years old.

One of his acquaintances was a young electrician named George Duroy, who lived with his girlfriend at the Egmont House on B Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Both men were suspected of being involved in some shady business. Another character well-known to police was an old French Jew named Julius Pier, who ran a pawnbroker’s shop and used clothing store at 61 Maiden Lane, now Oak Street. He was suspected by the police of being a fence for local thieves and they had several times put him and his shop under surveillance. It is not known how old Pier was, but he was often described in the papers as “aged and decrepit.” He had a friend John King, a Black hostler who worked in the streetcar stable across the alley from the pawnshop.

At 10:45 on the morning of Thursday May 2nd, 1895, John King went to the rear of the pawn shop to visit Pier. He knocked, but there was no reply. King tried the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. He went in, calling for his friend. Entering the small bedroom, he was horrified to find the bedding and furniture scattered about and spattered with blood. On the floor was the body of Pier, bound, gagged, and covered with blood. King hurried to the police station, and Chief Maben and several officers arrived on the scene at 10:45.

They found that the old man head’s had been bashed in with an iron bar, probably around midnight. The store had been thoroughly ransacked, so the motive was apparently robbery. From the state of the shop and the secure fastenings with which he had been bound, the police deduced that more than one man had been involved and that the victim had put up a fierce fight. They found that his murderers had entered through a side window. It was known that Pier had attended a Salvation Army meeting at 9:00 the evening before, and the police guessed that the attackers had laid in wait for him, or he had surprised them during the robbery. The police searched the store and found several boxes in a small valise in the bottom of a trunk containing a couple of dozen gold and silver watches and less than $100 in money. This was no doubt what the thieves had been searching for in vain.

Marysville, Yuba County. Undated photograph.

In the bathroom they found a blood-soaked shirt wrapped around a piece of pipe such as that used to insulate electrical cables. This at once put them in mind of George Duroy, the young electrician. The sheriff went to Duroy’s hotel and took him down to the station to question him. They showed him the bloody shirt and the electrical conduit. Duroy’s girlfriend acknowledged that the bloody shirt belonged to Duroy and told the police that Duroy had told her about committing the crime.

Confronted with the evidence, at 2:30 Duroy quickly confessed to the robbery and murder. First, he said his real name was Stewart Augustus Greene, son of a respectable doctor in Evansville, Indiana. He told the sheriff his accomplice was the barber, Marshall Miller. The police went to Miller’s residence. When he opened the door, Miller lunged for a pistol, either to resist arrest or to kill himself, but the deputies were too quick for him and wrestled the gun away. Miller’s premises were searched and blood-stained garments were found in them. He was arrested at 3:00. When he was shown Greene’s full confession, which said that Miller had done the actual killing, he admitted to being present but said that Greene had killed the pawnbroker. He signed a confession at 3:15. Both murderers had been caught and confessed within six hours of the discovery of the crime.

Julius Pier was well-known in Marysville, and when the news of the murder and arrests got out, the people were very excited and indignant. There was talk of lynching, but Sheriff Maben thought there was little danger of that, though he did put extra guards on the jail that evening. There were two meetings of outraged citizens that night and one leading man offered $500 for the privilege of hanging Greene, but no action was ever taken.

Greene’s confession described the crime in detail:

About two weeks ago I visited Doc Miller’s saloon at the corner of Third and B streets, where I made a remark in a jocose manner that I was broke and would have to rob a bank or something else. Marshall J. Miller, the barber, who was present, asked me to call down at his shop and have a talk on business matters. When I called Miller said he would put me on to a good thing if I meant business and I asked him what it was. He then said that old Jew on C Street has a lot of dough and a lot of watches and stuff and we will go up there and do him up. We discussed his proposition and I did not consent for some time. He proposed to kill the old man and put him down in the privy so as to get him out of the way and I would not consent to using any violence. He then suggested that he could get Pier to go down to the house of a Chilean, whose name I do not remember, under the pretense of looking at some stolen stuff, when there they could do him and the Chilean up, go to Pier’s house and get his stuff and then dump both bodies into the river. I refused to have anything to do with such a proposition, but finally he persuaded me into the scheme of robbing old Pier. On the evening of the murder Miller gave me ten cents to buy some rope and I purchased it at White, Cooley & Cutt’s store. About 8:30 or 9 o’clock I went through the car stables where I met King and asked him for permission to go through the stable to the closet. After going through I changed my mind about the robbery and went up the back stairs to the house known as 61 Maiden Lane. I rattled at the door but could not get in, so I went down stairs again and met Miller who had also come through the stable. We went into the yard back of Walsh’s stable and then Salas’ dog made a few remarks and Ben came and called him off but did not see us. We then went into the narrow alley that leads out to C Street and with a screw driver that belonged to the barber took the molding off the window leading into the store and climbed in and closed the window after us. We then went into the room where Pier slept and searched around and I cut open a valise that I found and Miller examined the contents, but got nothing.

We then stood to the right of the bedroom door and soon after heard Pier coming in by the front entrance, and he came toward the bedroom door. As he passed in the door I struck him on the head with a slingshot made of a piece of insulator hose with a piece of iron or lead in the end, and it flew out of my hand. Pier tried to yell, but I clinched him and caught him by the throat and stopped the noise. We struggled all over the room, Miller assisting me and then Pier fell and struck his head on a box; then we overpowered him Miller tied him with the rope, while I held him. I then suggested gagging him and Miller handed me a piece of cloth, but I said I could not do it and Miller then gagged him.

We then lit a candle and Pier had his [illegible] and I remarked to Miller that he recognized me. Miller commenced to make a search around the room and Pier managed to get one of his hands loose and took the gag out of his mouth. Miller told me to tie Pier’s hand again, which I did, and the gag was again fixed. Soon after I knelt down and heard his heart beating and heard him breathing. He again got his hand loose and got the gag out. Miller then caught him by the throat and told me to tie his hand again which I did. Miller remained around Pier’s head for some time and after I got his hand tied, Miller rose up and said, ‘I guess he won’t trouble us anymore.’

I then made up my mind to leave and discovered that my shirt was bloody so I took it off and pulled a shirt off the clothes line in Pier’s room and put it on. I then took the bloody shirt and slingshot and threw them into the water closet. We then went out through the alley into C Street, but before we went out Miller said if I ever told a word he would kill me.

The hour at which we left the premises was about 10 o’clock. I then walked towards the Golden Eagle hotel, went down Second to B street and to my room at the Ebner House, where I washed my clothes.

Golden Eagle Hotel, Marysville, circa 1882. Courtesy Yuba County Library.

On Saturday, May 4th, a coroner’s jury ruled that Julius Pier had been murdered by Greene and Miller. The lawyers for Greene were E. A. Forbes and W. H. Carlin. Miller asked Attorney Belcher to defend him, but he refused. The preliminary examination was set for Tuesday afternoon, May 7th. Greene reportedly told a woman he was a refugee from home on account of a murder he got mixed up in in the east.

The preliminary hearing was packed, and hundreds of spectators could not get into the courthouse. Miller had no counsel and grinned and laughed all the while. A tear now and then rolled down Greene’s cheek as he held his kerchief to his face. When Greene’s counsel answered “Ready,” Miller also answered, “I am ready.”

All the testimony of the Coroner’s trial was repeated. The statements of both criminals were read. Attorneys for Greene tried to throw his out but Miller stated he made his voluntarily and accused Greene of “putting up the job,” or framing him. According to the Oroville Weekly Mercury of May 10th (the paper consistently called the victim Pierre):

When Pierre was finally forced to the floor he appeared to lapse into a state of unconsciousness, and the tying of his hands and feet and gagging process described in the Democrat of yesterday was proceeded with. Twice Pierre pulled the gag from his mouth, and when they found that their victim was disposed to be contrary they tied the gag in place with the rope and then bound his hands and feet more firmly.

Believing that Pierre was then in no condition to be cognizant of what was transpiring about him, the robbers and murderers lighted a candle and looked down upon their work.

Imagine their surprise when their eyes met those of Pierre’s which were wide open and showed signs of recognizing his assailants unmasked as they were. It was then that they were aroused to the startling revelation that murder must follow to cover up their guilt. The electrician says he was opposed to doing away with Pierre but the barber was in favor of finishing the job. The candle was blown out and Miller seated himself on the breast of his victim. He then pressed the gag well into Pierre’s throat with one hand while with the other he held the nostrils firmly together. In this manner the asphyxiation reported by the doctors was accomplished.

The cruel marks made by Miller’s finger nails on the nose of Pierre are plainly in evidence. When the old man’s heart ceased to beat, the barber arose, and, turning to Green said, “There, I guess he won’t trouble us anymore.”

Both defendants pleaded not guilty and Judge Garber committed them to jail without bail pending trial. The law firm of Belcher and Webb was appointed to defend Miller. They asked that the defendants be tried separately. Observers felt it would be hard to get a jury, as strong opinions had already been formed and the matter was discussed far and near.

Miller’s attorneys asked the District Attorney to allow him to plead guilty of murder in the first degree with the understanding that the Court fix the penalty at imprisonment for life. The District Attorney would not consent to such a thing, saying, “Miller deserves hanging if ever a man did.”

On June 14th, the Mercury speculated:

Is Marshall J. Miller a Hypnotist?

Much speculation is being indulged in as to the probable methods to be followed by the attorneys for Stuart A. Green [sic], should they be forced to point out the exact nature of the influence which Marshall Miller, their client’s accomplice in the murder of old man Pier, exerted over the young man to cause him to appear first at the scene of the murder and await with impatience Miller’s arrival. If Miller is a hypnotist then Sheriff Inlow or his jailers should know it at once. They may be ignorant of the risks they are taking when they approach the barber murderer’s cell, keys in hand.

Faced with the fact of his client’s signed confession, Attorney Belcher advised Miller to change his plea to guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court. When trial opened on Wednesday, June 19th, the prosecution presented their evidence and Miller’s confession was read. The defense did not cross-examine any of the witnesses. When it was their turn, Belcher announced that Miller wished to change his plea to guilty. From the Oroville Weekly Mercury of June 21st:

Judge Davis, who appeared as clearly surprised as the crowd in the room, asked Attorney Belcher if he had fully informed the defendant of the nature of the step he was taking. Mr. Belcher replied that he had told Miller of everything that would be for and against him, and he had consented to plead guilty. Addressing the defendant Judge Davis asked if he had conversed with his counsel in the matter. Miller bowed an affirmative reply.

“Do you wish to withdraw your plea of not guilty and plead guilty to the charge of murder?” asked the Court.

“I do,” coolly answered the prisoner.

“Do you understand that I will have to hear the testimony of witnesses to determine the degree of your crime?” asked Judge Davis.

Miller again answered in the affirmative.

Yuba County Courthouse in Marysville. California State Library photograph.

Judge Davis dismissed the jurors. He announced a recess until 4 PM so he could interview the witnesses to determine the sentence. At 4 p. m. the court room was crowded with the curious who were anxious to hear the judgment. The Court dwelt upon the disagreeable task that the line of duty forced upon him. He said he had no doubt but a jury would come to the same conclusion, and bring in the same verdict he was about to impose. The murder was one of the foulest in the annals of crime; the worst he had ever read of. The judgment of his Honor was that Miller was guilty of murder in the first degree and that he should hang. Miller retained his usual composure while the Court was rendering the judgment.

The following week, Greene had his trial. He retained his plea of not guilty. His attorneys argued that their client’s weak mind, his youth, the malignant influence of Miller, and many extenuating circumstances should cause the jury to be lenient. On June 27th, the jury convicted him of murder in the first degree and fixed the punishment at imprisonment in the State’s prison for life.

The next day the court ordered that Miller be delivered to the warden of San Quentin to be hanged on Friday, September 27, between the hours of 12 and 1 o’clock.

Public response was very strong. Both men were equally guilty of a terrible crime, but their punishments were to be different. Greene’s father had come out from Indiana and had paid for good attorneys for his son. The feeling was that Dr. Greene’s money and influence had saved his son’s life, while Miller, who had no money, friends, or family, was to be hanged.

Sketch of Marshall J. Miller, Marysville Daily Appeal, May 4, 1895.

Said the Colusa Daily Sun on June 28th:

An old Hebrew merchant, Julius Pier, was murdered in Marysville a few weeks since by two brutes, one Marshall Miller and Stuart Greene. Miller was tried and convicted. He made no pretense to innocence. Stuart Greene has been convicted of murder in the second degree. He confessed the terrible crime. He is guilty of terrible murder. He is not insane, is not an imbecile. Why mercy for a young man who showed none for the poor old man who had never done him a wrong? Why mercy for a man who says himself he got a rope, knocked his victim down, tied him, gagged him, and when he found he was lying helplessly at his feet appealing to him with his eyes, he murdered him? There is reason in all things but in the name of Justice why should Greene have had mercy at the hands of that jury in face of that evidence?

Sketch of Stuart Greene, Marysville Daily Appeal, May 4, 1895.

And the San Francisco Call reported on the Fourth of July:

The case is one that has excited deep interest, and the whole community has been aroused ever since the commitment of the crime. Pier was an aged Hebrew clothing-dealer, and Miller, in company with a young electrician named Stewart A. Green, planned to rob the old fellow, who was supposed to have considerable money concealed about the premises. On the night of May 1 last they secreted themselves in a room back of Pier’s store, and as the old man passed through to go to bed he was struck down, bound, gagged and beaten into insensibility. The robbers then ransacked the store, and as they were preparing to leave Green discovered that the victim had regained consciousness and was watching them. Fearing recognition, he deliberately jammed the gag down the old man’s throat and left him to die of suffocation.

In the execution of the deed Green took the leading part, and upon his arrest confessed the crime in all its details, but attempted to shield himself by claiming that he was acting under the influence of Miller, who was much the elder man. Miller also made a full confession of the bloody work and in turn tried to throw the blame upon Green. When brought into court Miller pleaded guilty, while Green stood trial and escaped with a sentence of life imprisonment.

So strong was the feeling in the community when the verdict of the jury in Green’s case was announced that the court held a secret session when sentence was passed and Green was driven at night in a covered hack to Wheatland with his attorneys and the Sheriff, where they boarded the early morning train for San Quentin. This proceeding, coupled with the belief that Green was much the worst man of the two, but served to add to the general indignation, and several hundred citizens placed their signatures to a petition requesting Judge Davis to deal as leniently with Miller as the jury had in fixing the degree of punishment for his partner in crime. Miller’s attorney argued that money, friends and influence had been at the command of Green to assist in saving his neck from the gallows, while Miller, alone, friendless and without means, could but throw himself upon the mercy of the court and ask that his life be spared. The Judge, however, refused to consider that the case of Green and the result of his trial had anything to do with the Miller case, and the sentence of death was passed upon the prisoner.

Miller took the matter very coolly to all appearances, but seems to be breaking down rapidly under the terrible strain, and it is said that he is anxiously awaiting an opportunity to commit suicide. There has been in the neighborhood of fifteen homicides committed in Yuba County in the past seven years, and this is the only instance in which the death penalty has been imposed.

The Colusa Daily Sun agreed on July 6th:

The object seems not justice for innocent men, but mercy for guilty ones. Miller deserved this fate. But what of Greene? Why should the judgement in his case be less severe? Evidently the son of a good family, with teachings far above the average and not half the apparent temptations of Miller, he only gets to prison and while old Miller must hang. The citizen’s petition is wrong to desire to commute Miller’s sentence. They should rather demand that Greene has his dues according to the evidence. If one of the criminals should be punished less than the other it should be the less guilty one and from the published evidence Miller was certainly that one. But for the good of humanity and future society, these human butchers should meet the demand of the law. It is of course more important that Greene should, for being a young man he is liable to live longer in the world and hence do more harm, besides being if possible the most guilty of the two.

On September 2nd, Belcher and Webb appealed his case to the California Supreme Court. The execution was stayed pending the appeal. In January 1896 the case was continued until the following term, guaranteeing Miller another six months of life. But on August 13th, 1896, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in the People vs. Marshall J. Miller. The Court declared that the Superior Court Judge had followed the only admissible course in view of the evidence submitted to him.

On September 29th, Miller was re-scheduled to hang on December 11th. Miller wrote a story of his wanderings in Mexico, Arizona and California and sent it to a friend. He still hoped that the governor would commute his sentence to life, in accordance with Greene’s. But the day before the scheduled execution, Governor James Budd deemed the reason advanced was insufficient to warrant a commutation.

California Governor James Budd

Miller requested that no newspaper men nor anybody else should be admitted to see him except the priest. The Warden complied with his request. After a long interview with his spiritual advisor Father Conley, Miller asked to see a reporter. A reporter from the San Francisco Call was allowed to interview him; but he had changed his mind and Father Conley would give out after the execution what he had to say. But apparently he changed his mind again, for The Call reported:

Miller is a free talker, however, and made it apparent that his only statement was a tirade against Green, his partner in crime, of whom he spoke with much bitterness. He denies that he is guilty, and will doubtless go to the gallows asserting his innocence. He says that his conviction was all jobbery; that he has never committed any crime or ever been arrested before. He was convicted, he says, on the testimony of two ex-convicts. He claims that he was given drugged liquor and taken into the murdered man’s store, and that was all he knew about it. He blames his lawyers and the court and is particularly bitter against Green, whom he charges with various crimes. If he does not change very much to-night he will go to the gallows claiming that his execution is a miscarriage of justice and the murder of an innocent man.

Miller talked in a free and easy, indifferent manner, with much profanity intermixed and with perfect coolness and nerve. He said he was a widower and that his parents were dead. He is about 50 years of age, a native of Ohio, and so far as known has no family nor relatives on this coast. He had a barber-shop in Marysville, but had been there only a short time, hailing from Arizona and before that from Mexico. The old man for whose murder he will be hanged was named Julius Pier.

He said to a reporter from the San Jose Herald:

Miller made a statement last night that he was innocent of the crime and accounted for his presence in Pier’s house by being drugged by Greene. He said Greene was an all round crook who had been implicated in robberies in Utah, Wheatland, Marysville and other places. Miller blames his attorney for ill-advising him to plead guilty.

According to the San Francisco Call on December 12th:


Marshall J. Miller Dies on the Gallows at San Quentin.

Declarations of Innocence Made During His Last Hours on Earth.

His Crime the Killing of an Aged Man at Marysville for His Gold.

SAN QUENTIN, Cal., Dec 11. — The quickest of the many executions in the State Prison here was the hanging of Marshall J. Miller at 10:16 o’clock this morning. It was but a few seconds over a minute from the time Miller put his foot on the stairs leading up to the platform until he had been shot through the trap and the doctors had hold of his wrist counting the decreasing heart pulsations.

The death watch at his cell had begun eight days ago. He had been hopeful of a respite from the Governor until last night. Then he abandoned himself to his fate, but bore up well. He sent for a priest yesterday, and Father Conley of San Rafael was with him much of the day. Last night he read newspapers and the Bible and talked with Guards Jones and Miller until 1 o’clock, when he knelt and prayed. He slept three hours. At 8 o’clock he ate a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs, potatoes, bread and coffee. The execution was set for 10 o’clock, but Warden Hale extended his life tenure fifteen minutes, so that he could spend it with priests Lagan and Conley.

Miller, very pale and trembling slightly, ascended the gallows stairs leaning on the arm of Father Lagan. While the black cap was being adjusted Father Lagan said for Miller that he “is not more guilty than others who had not to suffer the death penalty. He was not a Catholic or a follower of any faith before yesterday, but he died in the Catholic faith.”

Then there was a click of the trap and Miller hung at the end of the rope. He dropped five and a half feet. In fourteen minutes Official Physicians Wickman, Jones and Mattner pronounced him dead. Miller was a widower without children or friends, and he will be buried in the prison grounds to-morrow.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Historian Brian K. Crawford’s profiles of San Quentin prisoners are part of a series inspired by an album of San Quentin State Prison mug shots from the collection of Daniel Sullivan. This album and other materials documenting San Quentin State Prison from circa 1880–1919, were donated by Daniel Sullivan’s grandson Wolly Middleton through the good graces of local philanthropist Jeff Craemer. Daniel Sullivan served for 40 years at San Quentin State Prison in the capacity of Guard, Captain of the Night Watch, Lieutenant of the Yard and ultimately Turn-key. On Sullivan’s retirement in 1919, The Daily News (San Francisco) published a series of articles profiling his career. Sullivan was highly respected not only by fellow prison staff but also by the prisoners under his care. More than once, Sullivan diffused a volatile situation because he had the trust of the prisoners. Notably, Sullivan came to staunchly oppose the death penalty having witnessed the humanity of prisoners, even among a population which included very violent offenders. The photograph album of mugshots is part of the California Room’s Digital Archive.



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