“Nearly everyone had a hot rock in one hand, and a Geiger counter in the other,” according to the book, The Doc Aiken Story; Memoirs of a Country Doctor, written by Dr. George Russell Aiken.
Aiken recalled that a number of strangers were filing mining claims at the Kane County Courthouse and among them were some rough characters – “ones you would not want to get acquainted with.”
He described Tom Holland, as one person who lived in a trailer behind the Purple Sage Motel, run by Lawrence R. and Ilene Zirker. Other prospectors included Leroy Albert Wilson, Ellis Gripes and Willis Rasmussen who rented rooms in the Kanab Hotel.
While none of them seemed friendly to each other, they all apparently had a connection to Bull Valley, near Veyo, a small town northwest of St. George.
Local stock operators grew increasingly frustrated when these prospectors increasingly trespassed on their property. In May 1954, Kanab resident Orval Robinson noticed a car parked by the side of the road near his ranch. Stopping, he checked the registration on the vehicle and found it belonged to Mr. Holland.
The next day, Orval stopped on his way to his ranch at about 4 p.m., to check for any recent prospector activity on his property. He noticed two sets of footprints leading north from the car. He concluded that two men had climbed through a fence and walked toward a rough break in the hills.
The next day, Orval stopped again where the two sets of footprints had left the road. On further investigation, Orval found only one set of footprints led back to the car.
Curious, he followed the two sets of footprints to a wash. One set of prints had gone into the wash, while the other set circled it. Then he saw it. In the wash, was the body of man, and a Geiger counter, was still clicking, where the victim had dropped it when he was shot, Doc Aiken’s book relates.
The man had been shot five times with a .45 caliber pistol. Robinson concluded the murder suspect had returned to the car, using a different route. Empty shells from the automatic lay in the wash. The body was that of Leroy Albert Wilson, Doc Aiken’s book states.
Orval immediately notified law enforcement authorities. Utah Highway Patrol trooper Merril Johnson and Kane County Sheriff Mason Meeks investigated the shooting.
When Doc Aiken examined Wilson’s body at the site of the murder, 400 yards from the car, and again at the morgue, he observed there was a bloody froth from his mouth, so Aiken concluded Wilson had been shot in the back first. The other four shots were apparently fired as Wilson lay dying. There was little blood from the later shots, Aiken stated in his book.
Under Aiken’s direction, a slug was removed from under Wilson’s skin, and it matched the empty shells near the body, at the scene of the murder; shells from a .45 caliber automatic.
Ironically, the shells and slugs were not admitted as evidence, Aiken states in his book.
However, Holland was arrested and jailed on suspicion of murder. Zirker, who ran the motel, also became a suspect when it was revealed he and Wilson had a fist fight over a uranium claim, and Zirker, later asked the sheriff for a permit to carry a weapon.
Because Kane County was not prepared for a murder trial, Ken Chamberlain from the District Attorney’s office, came from Richfield, Utah, to help Kane County Attorney Willard Mackleprang prosecute the case against Holland, Aiken’s book states.
The jury trial was conducted by a district court judge from Richfield and Holland was represented by defense attorney Ellis Pickett.
The prosecution claimed the motive for the murder was that Holland had bought some uranium claims from Wilson for $3,000 and had begun to promote the sale of those claims, when Holland’s check to Wilson, was returned for insufficient funds. Since Holland had already sold some of the stock, Holland was in a jam, and the prosecution claimed that is why he killed Wilson.
Defense Attorney Ellis Picket objected to the inference and Judge John L. Sevy Jr., ruled in Pickett’s favor, thus eliminating a motive.
On Monday, morning, Zirker was called as a defense witness. He said Holland could not have murdered Wilson because on the day of the murder, “Zirker and his wife, along with Holland and a girl friend, had been together at a party that afternoon. The four of them had eaten dinner at Parry Lodge, and then had driven to Orderville to attend a dance for the rest of the evening. The story established an alibi for both Holland and Zirker,” Aiken’s book states.
Pickett then moved for an acquittal because of lack of evidence. “No gun, no witnesses to the murder, and no motive, according to Pickett. The case was dropped and Holland was set free,” Aiken stated.
Fast forward to April 13, 2011, when Lawrence Zirker’s son, Larry Zirker, a senior scientist/engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy in Idaho, contacted Editor Dixie Brunner of the Southern Utah News, a weekly newspaper in Kanab, Utah, where Larry Zirker is quoted as saying “I thought that the Kane County Sheriff would like to have an unsolved murder taken off of the county records.”
In the Southern Utah News article, Larry Zirker states that his dad (identified as Lawrence R. Zirker by authors Raymond and Samuel W. Taylor in their book, Uranium Fever or No Talk Under $1 million) told him that Holland set up Wilson. Holland had gone to the County Recorder’s office and told them he had a high grade ore he had found in Kane County. Holland actually had a high grade blend of uranium ore from Wyoming. When Holland placed a Geiger Counter near the ore, the reading on the Geiger Counter impressed the clerk. The recorder then “called Wilson as predicted and the next day or so Wilson went out to the site to jump it. But Wilson didn’t know that Holland was there waiting for him and shot him six times with a model 1911 .45 caliber Army service pistol as he walked around him,” the Southern Utah News states.
Holland then returned to the motel and arrived before Larry Zirker’s sisters came home from school at 3:30 p.m. Later that day, Larry Zirker said that Holland gave the pistol to Larry’s father, Lawrence R. Zirker.
Larry Zirker said his father then hid the pistol in a one-gallon paint can in his workshop.
A few years after Holland’s acquittal of murder charges, Larry Zirker said his father, Lawrence Zirker, took the pistol out of the paint can and smashed the gun into dozens of pieces with an eight-pound sledgehammer on his anvil. Then Lawrence Zirker placed the pieces into a shoe box and while driving to Zion National Park one weekend, he threw out a piece of metal every few miles, according to the Southern Utah News article.
“Now as far as I know,” Larry Zirker is quoted in the news article, “the case has never been closed on the books of the Kane County Sheriffs Department. I believe my father could have been tried as a co-defendant because he had possession of the murder weapon, the bullets, and he had a motive. He actually obstructed justice by concealing evidence in a felony murder case.”