With all of the evidence gathered, the Napa County Grand Jury and District Attorney, Theodore Bell, ordered Jesse Walters and George McKenzie to face charges related to the Jan. 5, 1899 murder of Alfred, “Al,” Cook. This final installment of this four-part Memory Lane series will disclose the details of those trials as well as the fates of McKenzie, Jesse and Carrie Walters.
Following the murder, and as Cook’s 38-year-old lifeless body awaited its autopsy and burial, Walters began to face the consequences of his actions in the form of relentless pain and incarceration. Following several court proceeding, although skillfully prosecuted by 26-year-old District Attorney Bell, Walters was successful in receiving a change of venue to Solano County, Fairfield, Calif.
That victory soon faded when Walters was transferred to that county’s miserable jail. From within his small, dark, damp and cold Solano County jail cell, Walters descended into his own personal purgatory. He was racked with constant and increasing pain from his now gangrenous left knee and leg.
Eventually his medical team determined an amputation was imperative. But before consenting to the surgery, Walters transferred all of his worldly possessions to Carrie and said good-bye to her and their children. He also gave a deposition. Bell described that deposition as being useless to everyone and anyone due to the effects of the morphine administered to alleviate Walters’s pain.
That narcotic also produced horrifying hallucinations for Walters. Every day, for hours on end, Walters had visions of Cook standing beside his cot.
Those terrors ended for 47-year-old Walters on June 25, 1899 when he died following the amputation surgery. His family was at his bedside. A few days later, the same minister who officiated Cook’s funeral, Reverend James Mitchell of St. Helena, officiated Walters’s burial at the Yountville cemetery.
The Napa Daily Journal wrote, “This closes the second tragic scene of one of the most sensational dramas in real life ever enacted in Napa County. But another scene is to follow, for the death of Jesse Walters will not defer the trial of George S. McKenzie for alleged complicity in the killing.”
McKenzie’s legal team successfully stalled his case until they, too, were granted a change of venue to Solano County. They also managed to secure McKenzie’s release from jail based on his record as a sheriff.
During the prolonged and numerous rounds of court proceedings, McKenzie adeptly manipulated the media and public with claims of “political persecution.” His supposed political adversaries were Bell and Sheriff David Dunlap. McKenzie claimed they hated him because of professional jealousy fueled by their own inadequacies.
His trial finally began on Sept. 26, 1899. Bell presented a strong and unshakable case against McKenzie. But that momentum was broken and ultimately lost after only four days into the trial. On Sept. 30, the court was adjourned indefinitely due to the grave condition of Alice McKenzie, his 32-year-old wife. On Oct. 2 Alice died of tuberculosis.
On Oct. 9, the trial resumed with McKenzie’s defense team presenting two days of continuous hear-say and biased witness testimony. McKenzie also continued with his manipulations of the court, press and public. He also took advantage of their sympathies due to Alice’s death.
By mid-October both sides had completed their cases and presented their closing statements. Following those comments, the case went to the jury. They deliberated for only eight minutes to acquit McKenzie on all charges. At 5:40 p.m., on Oct. 12, 1899, McKenzie, 43, was a free man.
Whether the McKenzie trial was judged in the court of public opinion as a fair and just verdict or otherwise, the real life drama of Alfred, “Al,” Cook’s 1899 murder ended as sensationally as it began.