When we left off last time, Julia Savier had tracked her philandering husband all the way from Carson City to Stockton. Finding her husband’s mistress ensconced at the Grand Hotel, Julia knocked at the door, pulled the trigger three times, and watched her rival fall. “There,” she declared with satisfaction.
Once the deed was done, Julia calmly sought out a hotel employee and told him she needed to be taken to the Sheriff. But on the way to turn herself in, Julia somehow convinced her escort to stop by her husband Nel’s telegraph office. “I have shot her three times, and I ought to kill you!” she railed at her horrified husband.
Julia wasn’t bluffing, either. She hauled out her five-shooter, which as you’ll recall, still had two bullets left. (Kinda makes you wonder that nobody had yet taken the gun away from her, doesn’t it?!)
Luckily for Nels, the hotel employee managed to wrestle Julia’s pistol away before she could pull the trigger. But with his wife’s unwelcome arrival in Stockton, Nels’ luck had taken a definite turn for the worse.
Under questioning by the authorities, Nels Savier initially tried to deny he was even married to Julia. But that “wrong guy” ploy didn’t get him very far. Julia had thought ahead and brought along their marriage certificate. Nels was forced to ‘fess up to the relationship. And now he, too, wound up in the Stockton jail, as a potential accessory to the crime.
It soon became clear that Nels had had nothing to do with the shooting, however, and he was set free. To his credit, Nels paid one final visit to both Julias: his dying mistress, in the tender care of strangers at the Grand Hotel; and his once-beloved wife, languishing behind bars at the Stockton jail. Nels left town the very next day, however, his departure likely accelerated by a written notice he received from local citizens promising “a good coat of tar-and-feathers” if he didn’t.
Pretty, dark-eyed mistress Julia Lake didn’t succumb to her gunshot wounds right away. Two of the three bullets that had entered her body were able to be extracted. But the third had hit a vital spot. She began to spit up blood. On August 2, 1871, some two days after the shooting, pretty, pregnant Julia Lake breathed her last. According to news reports, no mourners attended her funeral.
The sensational murder made headlines as far away as the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, and even all the way ’round the globe in the Sydney Empire. Infamous killer Laura D. Fair had just been convicted in April, 1871 of shooting her married lover, and had been scheduled to hang July 28, 1871 (although Laura managed to wangle new trial instead). So female murderers were already a hot topic in the press.
Editorial opinions varied widely about who in the whole Savier saga was the guilty party. Some were firmly on the side of the dying mistress, excusing her dalliance with Nels as from“force of circumstances,” and praising her as “plucky under her misfortune.” At least one editor sympathized with Nels, the wayward husband, as simply “too susceptible to the charms of a pretty woman.” But other newspapers opined that the only crying shame was that Nels hadn’t been dispatched along with the mistress.
Julia Savier’s mother and brother paid a supportive visit to her at the jail. Women’s suffragist supporters Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton reportedly also tried to pay Julia a visit, but Julia declined their attentions, describing herself as “not an admirer” of their cause.
A grand jury (not surprisingly) had no trouble indicting Julia Savier for murder. She entered a not-guilty plea by reason of “temporary insanity,” and her trial kicked off on November 2, 1871. There, a “very frail” Julia offered her own whispery version of events from a couch that had been “wheeled up close to the jury” to better enable them to hear her voice. When all of the evidence was in a few days later, the jury took a mere three hours to reach their verdict: “not guilty.”
Once again, newspaper editors penned a wide variety of their own verdicts about the outcome. By and large, the Stockton citizenry were convinced the not-guilty verdict had been just, according to the local press. The outraged San Francisco Chronicle, on the other hand, felt Julia should have been hanged. And the Gold Hill News tartly dismissed her insanity plea as just a “well-worn excuse for murder,” pointing out that this particular killing had been of a “notoriously deliberate character.”
Now a free woman again, Julia made her own case to the public in a letter published November 23 in the Stockton Daily Herald. She pledged that the remainder of her life would be devoted to “whatever work [God] has for me to do.” And, amazingly, she still hoped to reconcile with the philandering Nelson! She was back with her family in Placerville, she noted, but only “until such time as it is my husband’s wish for me to come to him.”
Nelson James Savier, however, had apparently had quite enough of Julia, and was eager to put the whole episode behind him. By 1872, the year after the murder, Nels had taken refuge in the tiny mining town of Hamilton, Nevada, operating a photo gallery and possibly running the nearby telegraph as well. And there in Hamilton, Nels would soon have a close encounter of the most uncomfortable kind.
As luck would have it, Augustus Lake, husband of the Julia Lake (Nels’ murdered mistress), just happened to stop in Hamilton in 1872 while out on a prospecting trip. And as luck would also have it, Lake quickly discovered that Nelson Savier was there in town.
Mr. Lake cordially invited Nels Savier down to the local saloon for a drink. Old times, you know. Letting bygones by bygones.
Lake escorted Savier to a room in the rear of the saloon. And then he locked the door.
Stay tuned for the rest of the Saviers’ saga in Part 3!