Sunday, September 25, 2016

Attorney General Roy Black, "Lady Bluebeard" Prosecutor [otd 9/25]

Attorney Roy Black.
J. H. Hawley photo
Idaho Attorney General Roy L. Black was born September 25, 1878 in Lagrange County, Indiana, about forty miles east of South Bend. He became a teacher at an early age and continued for a number of years in the county schools near his parent’s home. After some advanced study at Valparaiso University and an institute in Michigan, he entered the University of Michigan Law School.

Roy drove a stagecoach in Yellowstone National Park during one summer while he was at the University. He graduated with an LL.B. in 1907, having served as Associate Editor of the Michigan Law Review during his junior year. Soon after graduation, Black formed a partnership with Nicodemus D. Wernette, a Law School classmate, and they moved to Coeur d'Alene.

Earlier that year, Kootenai County had been drastically reduced in size by the creation of Bonner County. Coeur d'Alene became the county seat of this smaller Kootenai County in 1908.

The firm of Black & Wernette operated successfully for over a decade, even as the partners also found positions in public service. In 1909, Black was elected to a two-year term as City Attorney for Coeur d'Alene. The following year, Wernette was elected Prosecuting Attorney for Kootenai County, and Black was elected to a term in the Idaho House of Representatives. There, leaders made him chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

During his term, Roy sponsored an act known as the “Black Law,” which allowed cities of over 2,500 population to adopt a commission form of government. The Black Law generated a great deal of controversy, especially when advocates applied it to Boise, which operated under a special Charter. Still, in a close election (52-48%), voters did overturn the Charter.

In 1918, the Republican Party nominated Black as their candidate for Attorney General and he won easily. He was also elected for a second term.

The most famous case of Black's period as Attorney General involved the trial of serial killer Lyda Southard, variously known as “Idaho’s Lady Bluebeard,” “Flypaper Lyda,” Lyda Trueblood (her birth name), or any of her numerous married names.
Lyda [Southard etc]. Associated Press.

Lyda’s family had moved to Twin Falls in 1906. There, in 1912, she married Robert Dooley, who died three years later. Forensic evidence eventually showed, with varying degrees of certainty, that he, his brother, a daughter, and three husbands that followed, all died from arsenic poisoning – apparently extracted from many, many sheets of flypaper.

Paul Southard, her husband at the time of the trial, escaped that fate, as did two later spouses. Showing arsenic as the means, life insurance payoffs as the motive, and (sometimes) apple pie as the opportunity, Roy and the team of prosecutors convicted Lyda for the murder of her fourth husband.

In 1923, after his final term as Attorney General, Black moved to Pocatello. There, he became heavily involved in legal issues associated with reclamation and irrigation enterprises. He played a role in the American Falls Dam Project. Besides his thriving law practice, he also served as Chairman of the Pocatello school board in 1929, and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Roy passed away in August 1970. In honor of his long association with the Pocatello Elks Lodge, the Exalted Ruler conducted his funeral.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
William C. Anderson, Lady Bluebeard: The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper, Fred Pruett Books (1994).
“Roy L. Black – Longtime Pocatello Attorney Dies,” Idaho State Journal, Pocatello, Idaho (August 16, 1970).
“‘Flypaper Lyda’ and Her Special Apple Pie,” Newsletter, Idaho Legal Historical Society, Boise Idaho (January 2010).

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