Scandal and Tragedy Hit Twin Falls in the 1930’s – Rogerson Hotel & Bertha Campbell’s Dress Shoppe

Another offering in our Southern Idaho History – Community Series – Twin Falls ID. Director, Julia Oxarango-Ingram is deeply involved in Twin Falls and Twin Falls County restoration and salvage of our downtown buildings; most recently the salvage and salvage repository from the Rogerson Hotel.  We discovered this fascinating article about the Rogerson and establishments nearby. This event took place in the 1930’s.

This excerpt comes from the book by Mary J. Inman entitled, Twin Falls Centurybook 1904-2004 – Celebrating the Twin Falls, Idaho Centennial.

Twin Falls was rocked by a murder and scandal on May 24, 1938.  The lifeless body of George L. Olson, a diamond salesman from Salt Lake City, was discovered in a car parked behind the Park Hotel and a half a million dollars in gems was missing.   Police Chief Gillette investigated.  The clues pointed to a prominent citizen of Twin Falls: former mayor Duncan Johnston who owned a jewelry store on Main Avenue E and was the last to see the salesman alive.

The police chief and an electrician took a room at the Rogerson Hotel and obtained a key to Bertha Campbells’ Dress Shop, both establishments being in the same block with Johnston’s store.The two men went into the common basement to “bug” the jewelry store. There they happened upon the cache of gems wrapped in a towel hidden in a recess in the basement wall.  Officer Craig Bracken was assigned to a stake-out and he caught the ex-mayor.  Johnston was tried and convicted and sent to prison.  Also arrested was an employee of Johnston’s; William LaVonde, a desk sergeant at the police station, which was in the same building as the mayor’s office.  But not enough evidence was found to convict this accomplice and he skipped town.


Vintage Postcard of this grand hotel

article murder


Article from The Pittsburgh Press Dec 21, 1942 about Johnston’s ‘escape’ from prison


Tragically, Officer Bracken died in the line of duty on 8 May 1939. Two bums from Nevada stole a car and robbed a service station.  They were spotted by Officers Bracken and Baraclay who then followed and stopped the suspects.  Shots were fired on both sides; both miscreants were wounded, and one of them wounded Officer Bracken who died the next day.  The murderer got a sentence of life in prison where he spent twenty years; his accomplice got seven years.

Historical Update:  Sixty-one years later on 20 January 2000, the Twin Falls Police Department awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to the fallen forty-five-year-old policeman, the only one of any Twin Falls force to die in the line of duty.  The presentation was made to Craig Bracken’s daughter Virginia Bracken O’Dell and son Frank Bracken.

Interested in an even more comprehensive re-telling of this story? Check out the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family Search site for a historical document sharing the ‘Rest of the Story’!   Click HERE


This entry was posted in Building Restoration, Old Building Salvage, SIRD, Southern Idaho, Southern Idaho Rural Development, Twin Falls, Twin Falls County and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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