July 10

This Day in History

Old West

Jul 10, 1889:

"Buckskin" Frank Leslie murders a prostitute

In a drunken rage, "Buckskin" Frank Leslie murders his lover, the Tombstone prostitute Blonde Mollie Williams.

Leslie was an ill-tempered and violent man, especially when he drank. He told conflicting stories about his early life. At times, he said he was from Texas, at other times from Kentucky. He sometimes claimed he had been trained in medicine and pharmacy, and he even boasted that he had studied in Europe. Supposedly, he earned the nickname "Buckskin" while working as an Army Scout in the Plains Indian Wars. None of his assertions can be confirmed in the historical record.

The record does tell us that in 1880, Leslie opened the Cosmopolitan Hotel in the mining town of Tombstone, Arizona. Shortly thereafter, he committed his first known murder, shooting Mike Killeen in a dispute over the man's wife. The killing was officially ruled to have been in self-defense, but suspicion of foul play arose when Leslie married Killeen's widow two months later.

Two years later, after Leslie badly pistol-whipped a man outside the Oriental Saloon, many Tombstone citizens began to suspect Leslie was a dangerous man. When the famous Tombstone gunslinger John Ringo was found murdered, suspicions again focused on Leslie, though law officers were unable to prove his guilt. Billy Claiborne, a friend of Ringo's, was so certain Leslie was the murderer that he called him out. Leslie shot the inexperienced young man dead.

Even among the notorious rabble of gunslingers and killers in Tombstone, Leslie was unusually violent. The people of Tombstone finally had their chance to get rid of him in 1889. Two years earlier, Leslie had divorced his wife and taken up with a Tombstone prostitute named Blonde Mollie Williams. The relationship eventually soured, and in a drunken fit of rage, Leslie shot the defenseless woman dead. With testimony from a ranch hand that had witnessed the killing, a Tombstone jury convicted Leslie of murder and sentenced him to 25 years.

Seven years later, Leslie won parole with the aid of a young divorcee named Belle Stowell. He soon married Stowell and seems to have made an effort to live a more peaceful life. He even reportedly made a small fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. He moved to San Francisco in 1904. His fortunes thereafter quickly declined, and he disappeared from the historical record. He may have eventually committed suicide, but the true manner and date of his death remain unconfirmed.

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