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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 20, 1867
Date of birth: 1831
Victim profile: Julia Bulette, 35 (prostitute)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Storey County, Nevada, USA
Status: Executed by hanging in Virginia City on April 24, 1868

John Millian was convicted of murdering Julia Bulette and was hanged in Storey County, Nevada. The murder of Julia Bulette is one of the most famous incidents in Nevada history, her murder has been the subject of many books, and also of much speculation.

On January 20, 1867 Julia Bulette, a prostitute, was found dead at her home on the corner of Union and D Streets in Virginia City, Nevada. She died of strangulation, and from blows to the right temple and right eye by the use of a blunt instrument. Bulette was extremely popular in Virginia City, so her death caused quite a sensation.

Millain was arrested and tried for murder. He was French and spoke little english. The trial did not last long and he was sentenced to death by hanging. Millian's appeal went to the Supreme Court of Nevada, but the Court refused to reverse his conviction.

Millain was duly hanged in Virginia City on April 24, 1868 in front of a huge throng, believed to be one of the largest gatherings in Nevada up to that time. Mark Twain, visiting the Comstock on a lecture tour, witnessed the execution.



Julia Bulette: Queen of Tarts

The day she died, the hard-rock miners of Virginia City cried a river of tears. The vicious strangling of 35-year-old Julia Bulette on January 20, 1867, stunned residents on the Comstock. Julia may have been a prostitute, but that didn't stop the citizenry from organizing an impressive funeral for their favorite lady of the evening.

The Comstock boom was barely four years old when Bulette arrived in Virginia City in 1863, but the area was populated with thousands of young, single miners. The town had the busiest saloons in the West where liquor flowed freely and the miner's boisterous behavior was legend.

Prostitution was the single largest occupation for women on the Comstock. At a time when laundry or domestic pay was less than $25 per month, many women turned to the sex trade in a desperate attempt to pay their bills. Although some members in the community looked down on prostitution, the mere presence of women had a soothing effect upon the predominantly male society.

Julia Bulette lived and worked in a small frame house on D Street in Virginia City's red light district. In 1861, Nevada Territory had adopted the English Common law that deemed brothels public nuisances but not illegal. Although her cottage was small, Julia decorated it tastefully. For her customer's enjoyment she stocked a small bar with whiskey, port, claret and rum.

Bulette's reputation as an "accommodating woman" grew over time. Testament to her acceptance by many men in the community was her successful election as an honorary member of the Virginia Fire Company No. 1 "in return for numerous favors and munificent gifts bestowed by her upon the company." Fire Co. No. 1 was comprised of the city's elite firefighters, energetic men who thrilled to the excitement and exertion inherent in fighting dangerous fires.

Virginia City was built of wood and perched on a wind-swept mountainside. Sparks from wood burning stoves frequently set the city on fire. To protect the town, Fire Company No. 1 was equipped with one of the most powerful engines on the Pacific Coast. It carried 600 hundred feet of hose and was manned by 65 men. When the brave men of Company 1 were on the scene fighting a fire, Julia Bulette could often be found working the brakes of the hand-cart engines.

On January 19, 1867, Julia Bulette dressed and went to see a performance at Piper's Opera House. Prostitutes were required to sit in a special viewing box with the curtains tightly closed so the "proper ladies" in town did not have to see the "working girls." As the story goes, when Ms. Bulette refused to sit in the section reserved for women of the red light district, she was escorted out of the theater and returned home to enjoy a late dinner.

The following morning when Julia's next-door neighbor Gertrude Holmes brought her Sunday breakfast, she found Bulette brutally murdered. She had been struck with a pistol, bludgeoned with a piece of firewood and strangled. Most of her costume jewelry and fancy dresses were missing. The town was shocked by the violent act, and the citizenry demanded a prompt search for the killer. The Gold Hill Evening News insisted on an immediate hanging as soon as the culprit was caught.

On Monday, January 21, Julia Bulette's funeral was held at Engine House No. 1. It was a bitterly cold day, with gusty winds and snow squalls. Despite the adverse weather, hundreds turned out to hear the Reverend William Martin's eulogy. Extolling the virtues of a known prostitute is not easy for a man of the cloth, but Rev. Martin's sermon was well received and considered to be "most appropriate to the occasion." The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise described her as "being of a very kind-hearted, liberal, benevolent and charitable disposition few of her class had more true friends."

Her fellow firefighters in Engine Co. No. 1 took up a collection and purchased a handsome silver-handled casket. After the sermon, the Metropolitan Brass Band led about 60 members of the fire department on foot, as well as 16 carriages of mourners, to the Flowery Hill Cemetery. Attendance would have been greater, but the snowstorm and muddy roads kept many at home. Although Julia Bulette was given a Catholic funeral, the populace could not let a women of easy virtue be buried in consecrated ground. She was entombed in a lonely grave half a mile east of town. A simple wooden plank with the name "Julia" painted on it was all that marked her final resting place. As the mourners slowly filed back into town, the men of Engine Co. No. 1 sang "The Girl I Left Behind." Virginia City was draped in black, and for the first time since President Lincoln's assassination, all the saloons were closed in respect for the somber mood.

After the funeral, authorities got on with the business of capturing her killer, but due to a lack of evidence no one was apprehended. Several months later, prostitute Martha Camp was awakened by someone approaching her with a weapon. Her screams sent the man fleeing, but she later recognized him on the street. He was identified as Jean Marie Villain, commonly known as John Millian, a French baker and drifter. Millian was arrested and thrown in jail. The next day, a search of Millian's house and storage trunk at the bakery revealed some of Julia Bulette's possessions.

Jurors quickly convicted Millian, but his attorney appealed the case to the State Supreme Court. The judges upheld the lower court's ruling and on April 24, 1868, John Millian was escorted to the gallows where more than 4,000 spectators witnessed the execution. Among them was Mark Twain who was touring the country following a trip to Europe and the Middle East.


The victim, Julia Bulette and an Engine Co. No. 1 helmet.




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