by Paul R. Spitzzeri
While Charles P. Temple, half-owner with his brother Walter of the Temple Homestead in the community of Misión Vieja (Old Mission) in the Whittier Narrows, walked out of a courtroom having shaken hands with former brother-in-law James Basye following their April 1899 duel, what was not left behind was the family feud that arose when Basye’s sister and Temple’s wife, Rafaela died just a few months after their wedding the previous November.
Tensions flared again three years later when Temple, owner of the La Paloma Club situated in his house at the family homestead, got into a fracas with Basye’s brother, Tomás, in early August 1902. The Los Angeles Express of the 4th observed that “Charles Temple, a member of the old Temple family of Los Angeles, was locked up in the county jail on a charge of murder” because, the piece continued, “he shot and killed a laborer named Tomas Boyse [sic] at La Palma [sic] Clubhouse, near El Monte.”
The paper added that “Temple conducts the club in connection with a store, and Saturday night a crowd of drunken Mexicans gathered there.” Not long after midnight as the ruckus increased in volume, “Temple went from his office in the store to the barroom and ordered the crowd to leave, as he wished to close up the place.” It was then reported that Basye refused to vacate the premises and drew a knife with Temple whipping out a gun “and after again ordering all hands to leave and Boyse still standing his ground, he shot him in the neck.”
Purportedly, some witnesses stated that Basye did not have a weapon displayed but “that Temple had been drinking and was in an ugly mood.” Following the homicide, Temple turned himself in at San Gabriel, while a coroner’s inquest, which included “much contradictory testimony,” yielded the verdict that Basye died from “a gunshot wound inflicted by Charles Temple with murderous intent.”
The Los Angeles Times of the same day, chose to put the incident this way: “as the outcome of a drunken brawl at the La Palma Clubhouse shortly after midnight yesterday morning, Tomas Bayse [sic], a half-breed Mexican and French laborer, was shot through the neck and killed by Charles Temple, proprietor of the saloon.” Temple was also identified as the scion of an old regional family “after which Temple Block,” the prominent downtown set of commercial buildings constructed by Charles’ uncle Jonathan and father F.P.F. between 1857 and 1871, “was named.”
The account was not substantially different from that of the Express, but there was more detail. For example, it was stated that it was a half-hour after the first warning to leave that Temple became “infuriated” and pulled his revolver from behind the bar and ordered the carousing Latinos to get out. Bayse, though, described as “drunk and quarrelsome,” was said to have pulled his knife after saying he wasn’t leaving and “the two men tried to get at each other.”
Peter Davis, who was a cousin of Basye [the Misión Vieja community was full of intermarried families] and whose sister, Julia, long resided with the Temples, and who was described as a Mexican, “stepped between them.” Temple, however, demanded that Davis move away and the latter, “realizing that he was in danger,” backed off and had just done so when “Temple, with revolver leveled, pulled the trigger.” Bayse dropped face forward and, with the bullet hitting his jugular vein, died shortly thereafter. It was added that, while Temple turned himself in at San Gabriel, he was transported to Los Angeles and lodged at the county lockup.
Notably in its next day’s edition, the Times clarified that the site was not in El Monte, but 4 1/2 miles away and that “the scene of the killing is an historic one” because “it was there that the first San Gabriel mission was established, more than a century ago, and during the Spanish [really, the Mexican era] rule of this part of the country, it was a meeting place for people for miles around.” it added that Temple remained in the pokey as a preliminary hearing at San Gabriel was yet to scheduled, but one wonders if the transfer to the Angel City was because of a threat of lynching, something that hadn’t happened in greater Los Angeles for some years.
It should be noted that Basye’s background was ethnically mixed, as his grandfather, who was from Missouri and had French heritage, married a sister of Juan Matias Sánchez, half-owner with F.P.F. Temple of Rancho La Merced. Sánchez long occupied the adobe house built by original ranch grantee Casilda Soto de Lobo and his nephew Rafael Basye built an adobe off San Gabriel Boulevard that later housed a store, billiard parlor and saloon operated by Manuel M. Zuñiga, Charles Temple’s brother-in-law and business partner, and in front of which the 1899 duel between Temple and James Basye took place.
Temple, however, was a “half-breed,” as well, as his American father married Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of William, a native of England and half-owner of the adjacent Rancho La Puente, and Nicolasa Urioste, who hailed from Taos, New Mexico and was of Spanish and, perhaps, Indian ancestry. Yet, it was Basye who was described as the “half-breed” while Temple was denoted a member of the once-prominent Los Angeles family and, therefore, seen as more “American.”
Now, while this “family feud” between Temple and the Basye brothers might seem hyper-localized and not tied to broader social issues, this was actually far from the case, as the Times of the 6th reported that “after taking a breath, the State Anti-Saloon League has renewed war on the ‘social clubs'” and a subheading of the article noted that the League “Will Attack Resort of Bad Man Temple.” Moreover, the paper observed that, while League members would not be “Carrie Nationizing” social clubs; meaning, they would not take hatchets and smash establishments for which the activist was famously known, though they were not against others so doing.
Instead, the League “will depend on criminal prosecutions, efforts to arouse public opinion against the blind tigers, and the election to local offices of men friendly to its cause. Among discussion of the use of search warrants, the fact that some constables ran saloons, the offers of help from the Southern Pacific Railroad which wanted saloons closed near its yards and shops, and solidarity with some retailers of alcoholic beverages who wanted to shut out unlicensed sellers, was an identified priority, which was the “LA PALOMA CLUB [CLOSED] FIRST.” The article went on to report:
The League has now a number of detectives and spies in the field, principally spies, with the Los Angeles city attorney readied for prosecutions.
Advantage will be taken of the death of Tomas Bayse [sic], who was shot in a clubroom in San Gabriel township by Charles Temple, the club owner, Sunday last, and probably this and nearly places will be attacked first.
While a preliminary examination of Temple was finally began in mid-September, his defense team managed to use delay tactics, a common strategy, to prolong the process as long as possible. The Times of 5 October reported that his attorneys did not dispute the basic facts, but looked to get the first-degree murder charge reduced to second-degree murder or manslaughter because it claimed there was no premeditation on the part of their client. Moreover, their motion for bail was rejected and Temple was to remain in custody until trial.
The paper recapped the basic facts of the incident at the “Palmer Club House on the old Temple place near the old Mission” including the purported fact that all of those in the establishment were intoxicated, including its proprietor. It was added that, after Temple demanded everyone clear out, Basye stated that he had money that he wished to spend on more alcohol and dared his adversary, “Shoot, then” when faced with the pistol—to which Temple readily complied. The article ended with the note that any claim to self-defense was futile based on the evidence presented.
A little over a month later, with Temple still cooling his heels in the hoosegow, he was arraigned before a Superior Court judge, though it is not known if he was allowed to post bail pending trial, which finally began in mid-January 1903. In its edition of the 14th, the Times observed that the byword of the day was “perjury” as accusations were made by and against the two sides that witnesses were lying in their testimony and “ugly insinuations of the blackest character have been made,”
Moreover, asserted the paper,
Nearly all of the witnesses to the killing of Tomas Beyse [sic] by Temple at the saloon at old Mission were half-tipsy Mexican peons. The life of Charley Temple depends on the story they tell.
The friends of Temple claim that the friends of Beyse, in their thirst for vengeance, have brought up the testimony of these peons.
Persons connected with the prosecution insinuate that the Temple family, in desperation, have chartered the peons to lie Temple to freedom.
The environment in the courtroom was such that Judge B.N. Smith ordered the jury to be sequestered with an officer to make sure they remained together and were free from the possibility of bribery, while jurors were ordered to tell the court of any instance in which they were approached by anyone speaking of the case to them.
A main witness was Epifanio, known as Chappo, Bermudez, who, while stating many of the aforementioned elements of the incident, added that Temple told the party that might that his wife, Susie Castino, who he married not long before, was ill. After he asked them to depart as a favor to him, Bermudez related, “a door flew open and Temple’s young wife was seen standing in the doorway with a naked dagger in her hand,” and she purportedly said, “Who wants to fight Charley Temple?” upon which Temple squeezed off the shot that snuffed out Basye’s life.
When Bermudez was cross-examined at great and wearisome length, the judge bemoaned that he was through with the eternal questioning. Before the witness was finished, he testified that Basye carried a coat across his arm and “was asked if it was not a fact that the Mexicans always wrap their zarapes [sarapes], or whatever they have, about their left arms in that fashion when they go into a knife right” and Bermudez was said to have replied that he “thought it was a custom among the cholos.”
When confronted about Susie Temple’s dramatic utterance and how she could have known there was a fight brewing if she’d been upstairs in the living quarters, Bermudez admitted he did not know how. A defense attorney accused Bermudez and others of “wanting to jump on Charley Temple there in the saloon,” though he denied it.
Another witness was Gabriel Morillo, who was described as “almost as black as a negro, and was very dignified. The old fellow was as smart as a whip, but, in the Mexican fashion, professed great ignorance.” It was asserted that Morillo knew less “of what was going on of any man who was ever eyewitness to a murder,” yet claimed to have tried to prevent the shooting by uttering, “Please, Señor Charley, as a favor to me, do not shoot.”
On the 15th, the Times began its coverage by noting “the murder of Tomas Beyse was laid at the door of the fake social clubs” because, in the face of defense protests, it was stated by the prosecutors that Bayse was a paying member of the La Paloma Club. This, it was added, flew in the face of Temple’s defense that he had to kill his adversary to protect his life and property, while the prosecutors argued that Bayse had every right to stay in the establishment as a club member. Bayse’s unnamed brother, perhaps James, affirmed Tomás’ signature on the document, while Temple’s brother, Walter, was compelled to do the same for the signature of Charles.
The defense did score points when it cross-examined a witness named De Ghorian, who the paper said “looks like an Irishman,” though why this had any relevance was not stated—maybe the stereotype of the Irish inebriate was at play here? LeCompte Davis, one of Temple’s attorneys and who went on to some notoriety as an assisting lawyer to Clarence Darrow in the defense of the McNamara brothers, the domestic terrorists who blew up the Times building in 1910, presented a statement signed by De Ghorian that stated Basye tried to attack Temple, while Peter Davis tried to hold him back, and that Basye had his overcoat on the arm as if readying to fight. An unnerved witness professed to not remember anything about the statement, which made him look highly unreliable.
On the 16th, Susie Castino Temple testified and the Times observed that, the prior day, her brother Gaetano was so conflicting in his statements that, otherwise, “the jury would have undoubtedly voted Temple a gold medal and collected a purse for him at the end of the trial.” This was because he gave life to the defense by testifying that he was tending bar for Temple and that Bayse and Bermudez were dragging a man, known only as Camilo, out of the La Paloma when Temple told them not to kill the man by being so rough with him.
This, Gaetano Castino said, led Bayse to curse that he “was not the only — — — they were going to do up that night” while Davis was said to have told Temple that Basye “was following him around and that he had a knife.” This was followed by the proprietor telling Castino to try to get everyone removed from the bar while Temple went upstairs to his wife, but Basye threw down a $20 gold piece and called for drinks, pocketing the coin when the libations were served. With the party accelerated, Castino told the court that Basye hurled a glass at him at which time he ran to tell Temple what had happened.
On returning to the barroom, Castino said Basye and Bermudez were breaking glasses and chairs and taken beer from behind the bar as well as rifled through a storage room, scattering boxes of crackers and cheese. When he saw the bartender, Basye purportedly bellowed, “Where is that — — — Charley Temple?” and another thrown bottle sent young Castino running as Temple entered the room. Basye was said to have yelled, “Come out here and we’ll fix you, you — — —.” As Susie Temple made her appearance brandished her knife, Basye then allegedly told Temple, “you’re a damn liar. There is your — — — wife; she’s not sick.”
Gaetano then testified that his boss replied, “that’s none of your business; do me the favor to leave the saloon,” to which the rejoinder “was too foul to indicate even by a blank.” The testimony continued that Basye lunged at Temple, who shouted to Davis to step aside and then fired the fatal shot. As for Susie Temple, she told the court that she thought she had pneumonia, but went downstairs after her husband went up to tell her that he hoped there’d be no trouble in the barroom.
After Charles went back downstairs and she heard the tumult, she put on a wrapper, grabbed a cheese knife and ran down and made her dramatic statement. As she did, Susie went on, “she saw the knife in Beyse’s [sic] hand as he came toward her husband.” Another important defense witness was Walter Temple, who testified that her heard Bermudez tell in Spanish “some Mexicans, shortly after the killing, ‘that — Charley Temple will be cinched if we hang together,” though Walter could not identify any of the others. As for Davis, when called by the prosecution, he claimed to have been too drunk to recall much of the night.
Another sensational revelation was by Manuel Sepúlveda who testified, “that he found a big clasp knife under the scales in front of the Temple saloon after the killing,” though how it got there was unknown, while a surveyor, E. Estudillo, stated that, near the blood stains where Basye fell was a broken knife point. Walter Temple added that, just after the killing was committed, Davis locked the door of the saloon and Gaetano Castino testified that Davis was alone with Basye’s body in the aftermath of the shooting.
It is very rare for defendants to testify on their own behalf as the burden of proof is on he prosecutor, but Charles Temple took the stand, with the Times of the 18th reporting that his fine handkerchiefs, flourished during his testimony, “bewildered and amazed” the jury. The paper added,
Temple is a big, handsome fellow, with a braggadocio manner, full of confidence. Whenever any other witnesses have been on the stand Temple has sat leaning forward in his chair with his eyes fixed on the face of the speaker with burning intentness. When he was on the stand himself yesterday he swaggered back in his chair and chewed gum—quite at ease.
He remained steadfast in the face of intense cross-examination and the paper recorded that “Temple swore by all that was good and holy that he only shot Tomas Beyse to save himself from being stabbed.” He related that a man named Juan Orosco warned him a year prior that Basye “wanted to get me, and would get me in time.” Months before the killing, Basye purportedly ordered a beer and stuck his knife into the bar, muttering “there’s for the cabrones,” a cabrón being an asshole or bastard. Temple testified that he told Basye, “I told him there were no enemies for him to draw a knife on.”
As for the evening of the killing, the La Paloma proprietor admitted that he had been drinking, but insisted he was sober, though a prosecutor implied that he suffered from delirium tremens the next day, to which LeCompte Davis leapt up to protest. Much of the article detailed the bickering and belittling by the lawyers, a reexamination of Sepúlveda and his claim of finding the knife, and the beginning of closing arguments.
Finally, on 20 January, the verdict was rendered and the Times, upholding the time-honored tradition of media hyping such moments for the most heightened dramatic effect, noted the “scene of dramatic intensity” in an imbroglio of “a family feud as bitter as the Tennessee mountains ever produced,” while “the end of this long-dragged-out tragedy was a pitiful scene.” It was reported that a relative of Temple, perhaps his brother Walter, sidled up to reporters to ask them their opinion on the verdict.
When it was known that a decision was made, Charles was brought back from his cell and, counter to the description above, the paper observed “he looked [like] a man who had gone through a great sickness.” As the foreman rose to intone the verdict, “Temple sat watching like a man horrified at some appalling scene” while “his pretty young wife [her attractiveness was commented on several times during the trial] sat at his side, grating her teeth; her face was a dull, ashy gray.”
When the verdict of “not guilty” was rendered,
Temple stood up, and sat down again, got up, and clapped his own hands with the others [the courtroom burst out in applause]. He didn’t know what he was doing. The pretty girl wife, in the flush of her impulsive Italian nature, threw both arms around his neck and half strangled him with passionate kisses. Temple, half bewildered, rushed over to the jury box and began shaking hands, but the court spoke to him sharply, and he sat down again. While the under sheriff roared at the crowd for silence, Temple sat there, and cried quite simply, and his wife slipped her hand into his, and she cried, too.
The account, however, ended with a simple observance that a forlorn James Basye soon after entered an empty courtroom and it was added that he hired an extra attorney to help with the prosecution, but as he scanned the desolate room, “he was the picture of chagrin.” A subsequent newspaper article recorded that there were 11 murder cases that were filed in 1902 and only two ended in acquittals, including for Temple. Several years later, in a review of the five years in which John D. Fredericks was district attorney, it was stated there were 63 murder trials and only a half-dozen defendants were found not guilty, with “the most sensational murder trials in which acquittals were found were those of Charles Temple” and two others.
Yet, within a little more than a year, there was more legal drama involving Temple and we’ll return tomorrow with part three to wrap up this post, so be sure to check back then!