Historical True Crime

Some very prominent Idahoans have been murder victims. Most of their names would have been forgotten today if they hadn't become familiar to us as place names.

William Grant Whitney was one of the best-known men in Southwest Idaho when he was shot and killed at his farm south of Payette on February 15, 1908. Today his name lives on in Boise in Whitney School and in the names of three churches: Whitney Baptist, Whitney Friends, and Whitney United Methodist. These all took their names from Whitney Bench, an area south of downtown first owned and developed by W.G. Whitney and his brother H.J. Whitney. It was W.P. who donated the land for Whitney School and Whitney Methodist church.

"W.G. Whitney Shot to Death" screamed the big black banner headline on the front page of the Payette Independent on February 28, 1908. The subheads read "J.M. McGrevey Kills Him in a Quarrel Over Some Hay," and "Alleges Killing Was Done in Self-Defense."

For someone who had committed murder, self-defense was always the logical plea, but a jury found McGrevey guilty of manslaughter, "the unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice." Self-defense or not, Whitney was dead, and the fact that McGrevey had shot him twice suggests that he wanted him that way. McGrevey was sentenced to three years in the Idaho Penitentiary.

McGrevey and his family had moved to Payette a year earlier from Whidby Island, Washington and had rented the Whitney place for shares in its crops. McGrevey and Whitney, according to the Independent, had been "unable to make a satisfactory division of the products, and as a result a suit between the two is now in the district court."

The plea of self-defense was bolstered by the testimony of eyewitness Fred James, who said that Whitney had ordered McGrevey to stop baling hay, and when he refused, had chased him around the baling machine twice with a heavy wooden stake in his hand. Had Whitney known that McGrevey had a 38-caliber revolver in his pocket, he may not have been so aggressive, but anger had blurred his judgment and it cost him his life.

We are all familiar with the names Crane Creek and Crane Creek Country Club, but did you know that the creek was named for Dr. C.H. Crane who established a ranch there in the 1860s? Or that he was stabbed to death by his nephew Lewis Crane in September, 1868? What other sad tales lurk behind Boise place names, we wonder. We'll keep looking and let you know.

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