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David Benjamin KNIGHT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Argument - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 29, 1935
Date of birth: July 8, 1904
Victim profile: J. C. Kalb (male)
Method of murder: Hitting with a hammer
Location: Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Status: Executed by asphyxiation-gas in Arizona on September 3, 1937

Howard C. Speakman, Judge

Earl Anderson, Deputy C. A

About the first day of December, 1935, the defendant Benjamin Knight, and a woman by the name of Vesta Baker, and Vesta Baker's two children, came to Maricopa County looking for work. They secured a job picking cotton at the Simmons ranch southwest of Coldwater, Arizona, and on the south side of the Gila river.

The defendant remained at the Simmons ranch for a short while, left the ranch leaving Vesta Baker and her two children at the ranch. The defendant went to Yuma, Arizona, and returned to a ranch near Buckeye, where he got a job as a cotton picker. At the ranch near Buckeye, defendant met the deceased, J C Kalb. Kalb and the defendant picked cotton together a few days, and decided to go to California, Kalb had an old Studebaker coach, a model about 1925 or 1926. Defendant Knight had a Pontiac. coupe.

When Knight and Kalb decided to go to California, Knight sold his automobile to a second hand dealer, and Kalb and Knight went to Venice, California, in Kalb’s car. They stayed in Venice at Knight’s brother's house two or three days and decided to return to Arizona. Knight and Kalb arrived at Coldwater, Arizona, on December 23, 1935.

Knight then borrowed Kalb's car and left Kalb at the Coldwater store and went to the Simmons ranch to see Vesta Baker. He stayed at the ranch a short while, and he and Vesta Baker agreed that he would come back to the ranch and stay there and that Kalb could also stay at the ranch Kalb and the defendant went to the Simmons' ranch on December 24 and stayed there until December 26, then Knight, Vesta Baker, the two children, and Kalb moved to an auto court in the city of Phoenix.

They spent the night of December 26 in the auto court and on the morning of December 27th, Kalb and Knight left the auto court saying they were going to hunt work, They left in Kalb's car. Knight returned to the auto court along about 8 or 9:00 o'clock that night, asked Vesta Baker If Kalb had returned, and was informed by Vesta Baker that she had not seen him since he left with the defendant that morning.

The defendant made a statement to the County Attorney and the Sheriff of Maricopa County in which he told them that he and Kalb went to the lettuce sheds near Phoenix looking for work on the morning of December 27; that they went to Coldwater about noon, of that day, and stayed around Coldwater until about sundown on the evening of the 27th; that while they were around Coldwater, the defendant and Kalb decided to go to the Simmons ranch and steal a wood saw that was attached to a tractor; that they did go to the Simmons ranch to steal the tractor; that they crossed the Gila river and parked their car behind a thicket some distance from, the Simmons ranch, and took some pliers, a hammer and wrenches to the tractor on the Simmons ranch and attempted to remove the wood saw, but found that it was too heavy to handle and abandoned the idea of taking the saw; that while they were walking back from the Simmons ranch to the car, Kalb suggested that they rob Randley’s store near Coldwater; that they then got into an argument about robbing the store, and that Kalb struck at him with a Stilson wrench, and that he got a hammer out of his pocket and hit Kalb with the hammer; that he did not know how many times he hit him; that Kalb fell to the ground in the road where they were walking; that he then dragged Kalb's body into the thicket by the side of the road; that defendant then went to Kalb’ s car parked nearby and got a cotton sack out of the automobile and returned to the thicket; that he then went through Kalb’s pockets, took his purse and a can of tobacco and put Kalb in the cotton, sack; that at the time he put Kalb in the cotton sack Kalb was still living; that he then dragged Kalb’s body through the thicket down to the river bank near Kalb’s a car, put five or six big rocks in the sack with the body and sat down to think; that he was studying whether to throw the body in the river.

His statement further showed that Kalb was still living at that time; that he then changed his mind about sinking the body in the river, took the rocks out of the sack and that he drove across the river out on the desert between the river and Coldwater where he turned off the road and threw the body into a pile of brush; that he then drove on towards Phoenix.

He stated that he threw a sun visor that Kalb had been wearing away on the desert and that he drove to the lettuce sheds near Tolleson, and that he then put a coat Kalb had been wearing which he took off the body after he had knocked him down, under the hood of the car, wiped up the blood off the floor of the car; that prior to the time he got to the lettuce sheds, he threw the floor mat out of the car because it was bloody; that he then drove on home and that he took the contents of Kalb's purse, some 15 or 20c and a small quantity of gold dust, put them in his own purse, burned the papers and cards that were in Kalb’s purse, and than threw the purse under the cabin where Knight and Vesta Baker were living; that he stayed in the cabin that night, the night of the 27th, and that the next day he and Vesta Baker drove to Chandler, Arizona; that he want to Chandler intending to sell Kalb’s car but changed his mind; that he than returned to the auto court in Phoenix, and that he and Vesta Baker packed up their things, took Vesta Baker's two children and started to California; that Kalb had a suit case and some clothing in it and that they went through the suit case and discarded the worn out and useless articles, put them in an old suit case, then put Kalb's suit case and the rest of his belongings that were any good in the car, and took them with them.

At Gila Bend they threw away the old suit case containing the worthless articles taken from Kalb’s suitcase; that they drove without stopping until they crossed the line into California, where they stopped on the edge a the road and spent the night; that next day they drove to defendant’s brother's house in Venice and arrived in Venice about out dark on the night of the 29th. Just before they reached defendant's brothers' house, Knight told Vesta Baker and her two children to tell his brother that Kalb had come to California with them and that he had gotten on a truck in Los Angeles and had gone to Watsonville.

This was done because the defendant's brother knew the car belonged to Kalb; that he parked the car in the alley near the brother's house and stayed there from two to three days and that he then rented a private garage where he stored the car; that after he stored the car, he took the battery out of the car and removed the tires from the two front wheels and took the battery and tires to his brother's house; that he took the tires off the car intending to sell them, but later changed his mind and rolled them down an alley; the evidence given by the Los Angeles officers showed that the car was found at the place defendant said he had left it, and that the tires and battery had been removed, and that the front wheels. had been turned as far as they could be turned, and that the steering gear had been locked so that the car could not be taken out of the garage without breaking the steering gear.

The defendant further stated that after he had stored the car, he removed the title paper from off the wheel of the car, and then he got back to his brother's house, he tore the title paper up and flushed them down the toilet. On the 29th of December, Kalb’s body was found in the pile a brush where the defendant had left it. An examination showed that he had been hit with some blunt instrument a very crushing blow in the back of the head and another blow in the left temple. All papers or means of identification of the body had been removed and the two hip pockets of Kalb’s pants were turned wrong side out.

A few days later the body was identified as J C Kalb by finger prints and a few days later two employees of the Simmons ranch were walking down the road which Kalb and Knight had followed in going to and from the tractor when they noticed a place in the road where something had been dragged across the road into a thicket. They followed the drag marks and found two large pools of blood in the thicket, and a pair of pliers and a wrench which bore a took mark identical with marks on the remainder a the defendant's tools, which wrench was identified by the defendants his wrench. At the place where the blood stains and the wrench and pliers were found there was also the butt of a smoked cigarette. Nearby and on the bank of the river was found a pile of rocks that had been piled up, which was identified by the defendant as being the rocks he had put in the sack with Kalb’s body.

After the two employees had found this place, where the killing occurred, they went to the morgue and identified Kalb's body as the man who had come to and left the Simmons ranch with the defendant Knight. Knight was arrested after having been traced to Venice where he at first stated he had came to California in a Ford truck with a man by the name of Wilson; that he had arrived in Venice before Christmas. He later changed his story and admitted that he drove Kalb' s car to California and claimed that on the morning of the 27th that Kalb left the lettuce sheds near Tolleson with another man, and that that night the man that Kalb left with returned to the sheds, and told him that Kalb had gone to California and for Knight to take the car to California and leave the car on Town Ave. between 5th and 6th streets; that the next morning he again met the same man, and he again told him to take the car to Calif, and leave it at the place stated; that if he did not do so he would get in trouble; that then he took the car to Calif, and left it as directed, and that he never seen Kalb or the car since then. He was returned to Phoenix, and again made a similar statement to the officers, but later changed his story and admitted that he had killed Kalb and had disposed of the body in the manner above stated.

While the defendant in his confession, claimed that he only took 15 or 20c and about half a can of tobacco and a small quantity of gold dust off the deceased Kalb, the evidence showed from a witness Bradley that the defendant and Kalb were in Bradley's store about dark on the day of the killing and that at that time the deceased made a purchase in the store and paid for it with a one dollar bill. Bradley testified that the deceased had five or six bills at the time, but that he did not know the denomination of the bills; that the evidence showed also that when the defendant and Kalb, Vesta Baker and the two children went to the auto court to rent the cabins that the owner of the court asked how many people would occupy the cabin and that the defendant said that the defendant, his wife, two children and the defendant's brother in law would all move in, but that the brother in law would only be there for a day or two.

The evidence further showed that Kalb was not defendant's brother in law. The evidence further showed that a rain had fallen a few hours before the killing, and that the marks where the body had been dragged out of the road and into the thicket were plainly visible, but that there were no signs of a fight or struggle in the road. Neither could the officers find any blood or blood stains in the road from where the body was dragged, but did find two large blood stains in the thicket about 8 or 10 feet from where the body had evidently fallen in the road.

It was the theory of the State that the deceased was hit in the temple while he was in the road and was later hit in the back of the head after he was taken into the thicket. This theory was arrived at from the evidence of the witness and a doctor that there would be little hemorrhage from an injury to the temple, but that there would be considerable hemorrhage from a blow on. the back of the head.

Defendant states that his name is David Benjamin Knight; that he is 32 years of age; that he was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma on July 8. 1904; that his father in not living; that his mother lives in Reed Oklahoma; that he has three brothers, one in Los Angeles, one in Burbank, Calif, and one in Wichita Fall, Texas; that he has three sisters, one in Carlsbad, New Mexico, one in Mule Shoe Texas, one in Chickasha, Oklahoma; that he is American citizen; that he has been in Arizona for two and one half years and in Maricopa County for six months; that he is an Auto mechanic and last worked for Mr. Wilson. at Buckeye, Arizona, for four weeks and quit because the job was completed; that he was convicted in Lamb County, Texas for Grand Larceny in 1934; that he is married and has one child whose whereabouts are unknown.



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