The man still “wouldn’t behave himself” so Piper ordered his son to “take the stick [an iron picket pin used for milking cows] and lick him so he would give up, and he done so, and he give up wrestling, and we could tie him.”
As Fred Jr. bashed him with the sharp end of the pin, the man muttered in fractured English, “not so hard!” After that, “he couldn’t state anything, he never got his voice.” And couldn’t ask why they were beating him senseless.
Fred Piper recognized the man as “Joe.”
Jose Gabriel was a native American who came to Piper’s home two years before because he “wanted some grub.” Piper’s daughters, who had apparently read Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer, called him “Injun Joe,” after the book’s villain. A day-laborer for farmers, Gabriel did odd jobs. He chopped wood and dug 20-feet-deep cisterns on the mesa for 50 cents to a dollar a day.
About two weeks before the murders, Gabriel dug one for the Geysers. It took five or six days, and he slept in their barn. Then he went back to work for Frank Sousa, down in Otay. Gabriel had already dug a cistern for him. But since promotional promises of water fell through and Otay Mesa had been in a long drought, Sousa needed another.
Gabriel had been in San Diego County for at least 25 years. He was five-foot-three, 130–140 pounds, and at least 60 years old.
The Pipers testified that they saw no one else on the property when they arrived. Six other witnesses corroborated. Gabriel was the only living person at the Geyser farm that night.
Asked if he wanted to question the other witnesses, Gabriel replied, via a translator, “Nada, nada; me no talk too much here, I guess.”
The court adjourned for dinner. When it reconvened at 1:30 p.m., at least two-thirds of the men were gone. They had “convened” across the street in the warehouse of Perry’s store. This was, writes the Union, “Judge Lynch’s court.”
Seventy-eight-year-old Lyman B. Moody sat on a pile of cheese boxes. The gray-bearded man told around 20 men to get a rope. Someone produced 50 feet of half-inch hemp with a noose at one end. They paraded across the street and slung it over a scaffold where the butcher hung beef, “ready to be snatched at a moment’s notice.”
Inside the court, Gabriel sat with hands folded on his lap. According to a reporter, when someone unwrapped two blood-stained clubs, “he gripped his hands together…and a look of uneasiness passed quickly over his face.” Then he “resumed his old demeanor and was as impassive as a cigar store sign.”
The other defendants, Pedro Armento and Jose Barra, who didn’t understand English, “showed no sign of fear or restlessness.”
Deputy constable Thomas Smallcomb took the stand. Gabriel, he said, “was not sure but thought two other Indians had committed the murder and then sent him up [to the mesa] in order that he might be blamed.”
Smallcomb added that the two purses found on Gabriel were the Geysers’.
In testimony, George A. Johnson and Frank Sue said Gabriel never liked the Geysers and that “they had plenty of money.” Sue saw the accused the day of the murder at 4:00 p.m. Gabriel had come down from the mesa and stopped at Guatelli’s winery. Afterwards he went back up.
Witnesses said they saw Armento and Barra “about six or seven o’clock” around “three miles from the scene of the murder.”
Willie Fletcher said he saw Gabriel with the two others at 11:00 a.m. “Joe appeared to be drunk, and the trio went up the valley.”
Peter Beckley, who did the most thorough search of the crime scene, noticed the trio at Guatelli’s “about 5:00 p.m.”
They were at his place Sunday afternoon, said Antonio Guatelli, “about four o’clock.” The next morning he saw “Pedro and Jose [come back] down the valley toward Otay at 7:00 a.m.” — where Deputy Smallcomb arrested them.
Justice Clark declared the court adjourned. He signed the complaint that Gabriel “did willfully and feloniously and of his malice aforethought kill and murder one John J. Geyser a human being then and there being and existing.”
A crowd gathered outside. At least a dozen women came through the door. Amid shouts of “hang him!” the men parted, making a corridor for the women to cross the street. They ran, one hand on their hats, the other on their skirts, and assembled in a yard, where they “waited, pale-faced and breathless but entered no protest against the proposed actions of their husbands and brothers” (Union).
Lyman Moody shouted above the din: “Hang him! Men, where is your nerve?
“I live alone on the mesa with my wife,” he added. “How do I know but tonight our brains may be beaten out by some drunken brute?”
Attorney Frank Goodbody tried to calm Moody.
“Get a rope,” Moody straightened himself up and shouted at Goodbody’s face, “and I’ll help you pull him up.” As if on cue, the 50-foot rope flew over the crowd and landed at Goodbody’s feet.
A carriage pulled up. “With the fire of ’49 in his eyes,” (Union) Goodbody’s father, Frank Sr., chewed out his son, “if you don’t want to see it, let’s take a drive down the road!”
When Frank refused, “the Union reporter also urged the same request,” he writes of himself, “as it was apparent that the deputy district attorney was bent on spoiling a good story.... But for once [he] was disobedient and held his ground.”
Deputy Smallcomb came outside, “his face flushed but his bearing cool and determined.” He walked to the center of the crowd.
“Men, neighbors, friends, this is the wrong time to attempt what you are contemplating! I PLEDGE YOU MY WORD IF THE COURTS FAIL TO CONVICT THIS MAN I WILL RESIGN MY COMMISSION AND HEAD A CROWD TO HANG HIM!
“But now he’s in the hands of the law, and his person must be kept inviolate for trial… I do not want to hurt any of you, but if you carry this thing out, some of us will be carried away from here!”
More Geyser Murders: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4