(by Student #13 AMH 2010 1115)
James Morris Fletcher lived a life of in and out of prisons in Pennsylvania, constantly battling the court. He tried every trick in the playbook to reduce his sentence or to be completely let go. If battling the court did not work, he would try escaping prison, in which he was successful only once. Yet there will always be a big question mark surrounding him: Did he murder Gerald Tanner?
On June 12th, 1954, Gerald Tanner woke up to a new day not knowing he was going to be assassinated. He may have eaten breakfast and had coffee, before getting dressed and brushing his teeth. He exited his home, and when his back was turned to the shrubbery of his home, received a back full of shotgun pellets.
What was the motive of Tanner’s death? James Morris Fletcher is the primary suspect, and it is believed he murdered him out of blind, jealous rage. They both were fancying Elsie Cannon Mahoney, and they both were courting her. She was employee at Fletcher’s store, where she and Fletcher often argued over her relationship with Tanner. Mahoney was fired two days before the murder of Tanner, when she and Fletcher got into an argument over her recent several dates with Tanner. The day after, Fletcher and Tanner got into a fight over Mahoney, and the next day Tanner was murdered.
Fletcher was arrested and tried for First Degree Murder. Mahoney stated that she has heard Fletcher say he would kill Tanner in the past but admitted that he was intoxicated at the time. Still, he was sentenced to life in prison after the jury found him guilty. Yet, he would only serve six years before going back to court to fight his sentence. On the 25th of February 1961, Fletcher was cleared for his murder charge due to Judge Gerald P. McLaughlin stating that he received an unfair trial due to prejudices from two of the jury. The first being a cousin of Tanner, and the other being the son in law of the detective who investigated the murder, who was the foreman for the trial.
Still this would not be the last time Fletcher would see the inside of a prison. Less than a year later in 1962, Fletcher would be arrested on larceny after stealing a few hams from a tavern. This time, Fletcher will fight his sentence every way possible, even trying to appeal to the U.S Supreme Court twice (both were rejected). He tried escaping three times, in only which once he did. In one case, he tried placing paper into the locking mechanism of his cell door, only to have the guards find and repair the door. The other case, he was caught by the Sheriff’s wife, who held him at gunpoint until help arrived after overpowering a deputy.
He went back to court and was found guilty on receiving stolen goods while in prison and for attempting to escaping prison twice. He tried to appeal, stating that he believed he was tricked into pleading guilty. It was no use, as these charges were added onto his current sentence. He tried a writ of habeas corpus, stating that he was arrested without a warrant, his constitutional rights were violated when the court ignored the confession of Raymond Skelton (a witness to the larceny), and that with confinement and a lack of funds for bond, he was unable to acquire several certain witnesses on his behalf.
His only successful escape saw him flee to Los Angeles in 1966. He and six of his companions who also escaped where found by police, with Fletcher being shot during this time. The bullet his back and was lodged in the lower left of his chest. How he was discovered was shocking, to say the least.
Ten years after the murder of Gerald Tanner, Fletcher shot Pat Dennis during an argument over Fletcher’s common-law wife, Ruby Johnson. He was arrested with assault with intent to murder, burglary and suspicion of narcotics. He was transferred back Greene County in Pennsylvania.
Inside of Green County Pennsylvania, James Morris Fletcher became a very famous criminal. While in California, he confessed to police that not only had he killed three men, he committed over 200 armed robberies, all within 1964 alone. Police were skeptical and searched for the bodies, where they discovered nothing. Yet the over 200 armed robberies might have been true, as Fletcher stated that he and Mrs. Johnson lured men into their car before rubbering them at gun point. Fletcher said he shot two other men besides Tanner in Greene County and one other in Washington County, burying their bodies on a farm in Bobtown, Penn.
James Morris Fletcher may have lived a normal life, but after murder of Gerald Tanner, he was always in and out of jail, murdering and robbing people on his trail of destruction. What a strange, crazy life this man had lived. He threw tantrums when in prison, begging for any way to be freed before going off the deep end and escaping himself. At the end of the day, though, was it worth murdering Gerald Tanner over a woman who did not love him back?