For those of you who lament the drive by shootings and murders and all the craziness of modern life, this true life saga is a case in point for something. This was definitely a drive by shooting. The gun was likely an assault rifle. The victim was talking with her mother in the parlor of Mom's home. And the jury did not find that there was enough evidence to bring the case to trial. Sound familiar.
This drive by murder took place at Cottonwoods near Newman on the evening of January 9, 1891. A Mrs. MacDonnell was visiting her mother, Mrs. Pendelton. The family was sitting conversing in the parlor when an unknown person approached and fired a forty-four-caliber rifle bullet through the window.
The ball struck Mrs. MacDonnell, killing her instantly. Footprints were tracked from the window to the home of E. T. Hale, some two miles distant, and he was arrested and taken to Los Banos.
It was known that he had borrowed a rifle the day previous to the murder and a rifle was found in his home. The prisoner admitted having a rifle, yet he denied borrowing it.
Mrs. John Hale, his sister-in-law, testified at the coroner's inquest, January 15, that she saw Hale carrying a gun from her husband's house, the day before the cowardly act was committed. The cause of the murder is unknown, and was a complete mystery except in this: Mrs. MacDonnell formerly worked for E. T. Hale's wife, and one day the two women, quarreling over wages, became bitter enemies.
Neither the Los Banos sheriff nor the Grand Jury chose to indict Hale, owing to a lack of evidence and the increasingly contradictory evidence and testimony. The rifle did not match the bullet and the verifiable time line did not match the witnesses who all had private grudges and accounts to settle. This remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the county.