Part 3 The Capture, The Confession
Early on Sept. 4, the same day Marie Lavor's body was recovered, Dempsey was captured at the water intake near Seward. After abandoning his handcar, he had doubled back on his own trail and escaped the posse guarding the line into Seward.
Suffering from hunger and exposure, Dempsey was building a fire when he was found. He did not resist arrest, but refused to talk about the Lavor murder, insisting that he was not connected with it. He also was unwilling to talk about the Evans shooting.
As Dempsey was brought into town, newspapermen observed that "while unkempt, bedraggled and dirty," Dempsey did not have "the appearance of a bad man or a killer." He was cowering and very nervous.
Deputy Marshal Mossman phoned the Anchorage Daily Times and announced that he thought Dempsey would confess to the Lavor crime within the next couple of hours. He predicted that the murderer "will certainly break down under the examination. . . "
Journalist Charles E. Herron interviewed Dempsey a day later and announced a confession on both killings. Herron gained the impression that Dempsey enjoyed the notoriety his crimes had brought him.
"He appeared lighthearted and cheerful, exhibiting no evidence of remorse," wrote Herron. Dempsey answered Herron's questions candidly and seemed "anxious only that the world should know of and read about his exploits."
Further, Dempsey implicated a partner who, he said, had double-crossed him and taken all the money. One man was to have knocked Lavor unconscious or killed her while the other robbed her cabin. He said they had originally intended to kill another, more wealthy, prostitute, but she became scared and the plan failed.
Deputy Marshal Frank Hoffman was suspicious of the accomplice story and checked it out. It proved to have no factual basis.
Thereupon the deputy marshals "applied the stringent measures of the third degree which included the physical torture necessary to make the prisoner talk . . ."
Dempsey was denied food, water and sleep, and although he lasted for hours, he finally broke down "under the severe strain and told his story in a rambling manner." He confessed that he alone killed Marie Lavor on the night of Aug. 25.
Dempsey said he hit Lavor with a Stillson wrench to stun her and when she screamed, he struck a second violent blow which killed her. He then lost his nerve and did not search her body for money or jewelry, but hurriedly pulled her skirt over her head to avoid blood stains on the ground. He then dumped her headfirst into the well. Dempsey also admitted that the bloody clothes found in the outhouse belonged to him.
After the confession, Dempsey, a nervous wreck, fainted and medical attention was necessary to revive him.
Hoffman later found the murder weapon where Dempsey said he had thrown it. Furthermore, the murder did not net Dempsey any money, because investigators found $145 in Lavor's place of business and learned that she had loaned $600 to friends before the murder.
On Sept. 5, William Stewart, alias William Dempsey, alias William Nichols, alias Jack Smith, was bound over to the grand jury without bail in the United States Commissioner's Court.
He was arraigned on the killing of Deputy Evans, and the government did not introduce any evidence to link him with the death of Marie Lavor.