A Madam, A Murder, A Mystery

Exhuming Arizona's most notorious prostitute

But two weeks later, a coughing fit burst a blood vessel in her brain and she was dead; and George was charged with murder. Dollie and four others put up a $3,000 bond to free him, and the trial was set for early the next year. It never took place.

On the day of his death, George worked at the restaurant from midnight to 9 a.m. After Dollie relieved him, he went home, saying he was planning to read. When he failed to show up at noon for lunch, as was his custom, Dollie sent Fred "Buttons" Terrell, a hired hand, to look for him. Terrell discovered the body, and on the kitchen counter sat a partly filled glass of water mixed with cyano gas.

Rumors about the death were immediate, and they prompted Pete Newman, the Yuma County sheriff, and county attorney Peter Byrne to promise an exhaustive inquiry.

Her face bruised from her pimp's final blows, Gabriell Dardley poses for a jailhouse photo in 1915.
courtesy of Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Her face bruised from her pimp's final blows, Gabriell Dardley poses for a jailhouse photo in 1915.

But evidence-gathering was hampered in the crucial time right after Wiley was found. Salome had no phone service, and a drenching rain the night before had washed out portions of the highway, delaying for seven hours the arrival of investigators.

Members of the coroner's jury, Salome residents who knew something of Dollie's past, struggled to make sure they didn't have a murder on their hands. One juror demanded an autopsy and got it. The official ruling was suicide. News accounts in the Yuma Daily Sun stated that Wiley, who was 59, suffered from a bad heart and was despondent over his impending trial. "The ruling didn't change a lot of minds," said Salome resident Albert Nord, whose brother, Jack, a member of the coroner's jury, insisted on the autopsy. "Everybody had their ideas about what really happened."

Among the unanswered questions was why did Dollie send Terrell to check on George instead of doing so herself?

"That's what made people think she left the glass out for him," says Hayden Brown. "In a way, I thought that, too. Something was going on there. I don't think George would've took his own life."

Dollie surely was asked why she didn't check on George when she appeared before the coroner's jury, but her testimony is missing. It can't be found among the records kept by the justice court in Salome or in the various storage rooms at the superior court building in Yuma. Also missing are the testimonies she and others gave at the preliminary hearing.

Not surprisingly, missing documents is a recurring theme in Dollie's life. She was vigilant about covering her tracks, even giving a different birth date every time she filled out a form. She probably had powerful help in her zeal to keep the law away. For decades, Dollie cultivated friendships with Arizona's most powerful business and political leaders, men willing to look the other way in exchange for her favors. She even carried a letter of introduction from Joe Conway, Arizona's attorney general from 1937 to 1945, vouching for her good character.

Another question: Why did the district attorney insist on charging George with murder? Eyewitness Brown said then, and repeats today, that Wiley never struck Mae. When George raised his hand to her, she leaned back in anticipation of a blow that never came and lost her balance.

"When you're sitting four stools from somebody, and there's only three people in the building, you know what's going on," Hayden says. "George never touched her. But somebody wanted to try that case in the worst way."

Dollie used her connections to hire Hosea H. Baker, a prominent Democratic state senator, to represent her husband. Baker told the Yuma Sun that the facts might support a charge of manslaughter or aggravated assault, but not murder. Why was George Wiley so despondent when he had powerful help in a trial he almost surely would have won?

As for Grisson, her death certificate lists the cause as cerebral hemorrhage. But rumors flew through Salome on that, too. No one thought Grisson had experienced anything more than a bad bump on the head and would be released from the hospital any day. So residents could not help but notice that her surprising death came just hours after a visit from Dollie.

"A lot of people around here thought it was very mysterious," says onetime Salome resident who asked not to be identified. "She's about to be released, then Dollie pays a visit and next day she's dead. Folks were thinking it was revenge for what happened to George. Or something was going on between George and her, and Dollie took care of them both."

The whispers led nowhere. Evidence was too sparse to mount any additional inquiries. It could well have been that in both cases the official explanation was exactly correct.

Alone and aging, Dollie continued to run the restaurant until she sold out in the early 1950s. Sweet George had left her in good enough financial shape that she no longer needed to sell girls, so for the first time in her life, Dollie's days and nights were quiet. She made frequent trips back to Prescott with carloads of clothing and other items she had collected, donations for the Episcopal church there, and she attended regular seances held by her psychic. At home, she entertained visits from girls who had worked for her and former customers.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets