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An 80-year-old unsolved murder and a family secret unravels in Butte

Story behind the Lady in Room Number Nine
Posted at 11:38 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 13:38:35-05

BUTTE — "I didn’t realize my grandmother was murdered till I was in high school," said Larry Ohman, author of Lady in Room Number Nine.

On the morning of April 19, 1940, groans could be heard coming from room nine in the Empire Hotel.

Inside was a woman, badly beaten on her bed, foaming at the mouth, unconscious. Her face swollen, bruises covering her body, her left eye blackened, swollen shut. A traumatic blow to the head.

Two days later she succumbed to a brain hemorrhage, unable to say who her attacker was.

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Eighty years later, her grandson wrote a book detailing the unsolved murder of his grandmother, a family secret that had unraveled over the years.

"Early on my mother wouldn’t say much at all. I remember as a kid asking mom several times you know what happened with grandma and grandpa. She would just always be very coy or quiet about it and just say you know she died young and that’s all she’d say," Ohman said.

"It wasn’t until high school, my sister and I were going through a cedar chest that was at the bottom of my mom’s bed, I don’t remember what we were looking for but anyway in the process of looking through that we found some newspaper clippings. . . and realize that it was grandmother and so then I confronted my mom and asked her more questions about it," Ohman said.

Marie Theresa Evans had been married three times before meeting Nick Evans. The two decided to leave Anaconda to live in Butte where the mining industry and jobs were flourishing.

She left her children with her mother and never saw them again.

The Evans had moved to Butte and opened a bar, The Belmont, which was located at the corner of East Mercury and Arizona, right next to the red-light district, where crimes and temptations ran rampant.

One of the most famous buildings where the girls used to live and work in that district was the Copper Block.

"It was a house of prostitution that was pretty well known in its time," said Kim Kohn, the archive technician at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

By 1923, the building’s name had changed to The Empire Hotel, where 17 years later Theresa’s beating and murder would take place in Room 9.

"If you look at some of the old maps you could tell, you know a lot of people know it by the name Venus alley and you could not see from the street- from east mercury, you could not see the backs of the buildings. . . it would have been very very easy to commit almost any kind of crime there," Kohn said.

Theresa’s life seemed to be plagued with tragedy even in death, a secret kept and a grave hidden away.

"It’d gone from just a curiosity to see if I could find out more to then starting finding out details and then it started to become more personal. It really became very tragic to me personally," Ohman said.

Four months before the beating and her death- her husband, Nick Evans, had disappeared after losing their bar, never to be heard from again.

"I tried to do a lot of research to see if I can track him down and more information, the only thing I was really able to find was that he was buried in Bulgaria," Ohman said.

Three weeks before the beating and her death- She had moved into the Empire Hotel. Ohman said this was her lowest point.

Sometime between her husband's disappearance and the move, she met the main suspect: D.C. “Cabby” Young.

"He worked as a cook in Butte for years on and off at different restaurants," Ohman said.

The night of her death, witnesses say the two were seen drinking together in her room. The first person to find her unconscious body was Marion Grant, a welfare worker who boarded at the hotel.

D.C. Young had been lurking outside Theresa’s room and Grant sent him to get a doctor, he returned without one.

When a doctor did arrive, Theresa was sent to a hospital. Two officers were notified: Jack Duggan and Alex Cuthill.

"In the 1940s the police department consisted of about 50 officers. Mayor Hauswirth was a very progressive mayor, he wanted the police department to be one of the best and that’s why he brought in and scheduled an FBI school," said Dan Hollis, retired Butte-Silver Bow Police Lieutenant.

The crime scene was contaminated - various people going in and out - but when Jack Duggan saw Theresa’s beaten body at the hospital, he immediately looked to D.C. Young as his prime suspect.

"When it’s a violent nature, a crime, a lot of times it would come back to a crime of passion and jealousy or giving to where the individual worked it could have been to send a message to the other people that worked in that hotel," Hollis said.

During Duggan’s testimony, he said that Young’s story kept changing.

"My gut feeling after I read the inquest- he was the one who did it and then when I read the jury’s conclusion when they said he didn’t- they didn’t find enough evidence that he did it I was very surprised," Ohman said.

"Even now when I reread parts of it, you know it- I find myself getting teary you know because. . .she was my grandmother, you know I- to read for the first time how badly beaten her body was and the description given by the mortician and the physician on staff. It was very hard to read and you realize that was my family." Ohman said.

The unsolved murder of Theresa Evans brought her family closer together years later.

"I got a message from one of my cousins just through all this who I haven’t talked to in years. He and his uncle are planning to go redo the plot this summer and redo her headstones." Ohman said.

"In fact, we’re considering doing some kind of a memorial service on the date of her death this year, haven’t been able to put it together but I’m hoping to invite my siblings, cousins, other family members just kind of have, I don’t know, a family closure," Ohman said.