c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article first appeared in Days Past, a column in the Prescott Daily Courier.
By 1931, the boom—bust—boom town of Jerome had seen its fair share of shady ladies. These enterprising women rode the carnal rollercoaster of the city’s economy as miners came and went. There was plenty of violence within its red light district even then, and Sammie Dean’s murder has remained an especially intriguing and tragic story.
Sammie was born Marie Juanita Loveless in 1892 in Texas. Her parents were Oscar Loveless and Virginia “Jennie” Lee Ludgwig. Jennie married her first husband, William Kennington, in 1887. The couple had a daughter, also named Virginia, and later divorced. In 1891 Jennie married Loveless. Four years later Loveless died unexpectedly, and a year after that, Jennie married again. Her new husband was fellow widower James Landwermeyer. The couple rented a farm, living there with Sammie, Virginia, and Landwermeyer’s four children from his previous marriage. Jennie’s third child, Leo, was born in 1900.
After Landwermeyer died in 1905, Jennie and her children struggled to survive. Daughter Virginia eventually married; in 1910 she was living with her husband at his parents’ house on Bryan Street in Dallas. Jennie, Sammie and Leo lived just a few doors down. While in Dallas, Sammie tried to better her life. In 1910 she and her mother were employed as “cutters” in a factory that made overalls. Later that year she went to work as a clerk for Sanger Brothers dry goods and clothing store.
By 1914 Sammie was no longer living with her mother and in fact does not appear to have lived in Dallas at all. Perhaps it was around this time that George Dean, said to be a gambler, swept Sammie off her feet. In fact, Sammie disappears from record in Dallas for a good ten years. Where, when and if she officially married Dean remains unknown, but when the census taker found them in 1920, the couple was living with Virginia and her family back in Dallas. Theirs was truly a full house with Virginia, her husband Hugh, their three children, Hugh’s father and brother, plus Sammie and George. While Sammie did have a job, the census lists George Dean as the proprietor of a cigar store.
After 1920, Sammie disappeared again. She was said to have worked, perhaps as a prostitute, in Colorado for a time before coming to Arizona. What happened to George Dean is equally mystifying, although some believe he left Sammie in Jerome. Whatever her past, Sammie certainly seems to have had her act together. They say she had divorced George, owned her own car, and that her accoutrements included some mighty expensive jewelry. It was also known, unfortunately, that she kept a lot of cash in her suite at one of Jerome’s finer bordellos. How long she had been in town is unknown, but before long Sammie had many friends and admirers in the red light district.
Until July 10, 1931.
A neighbor saw Sammie early that morning, but she didn’t answer the door when friends came calling around noon. Around 6 o’clock that evening, one Leo Portillo decided to check on Sammie. He found that although her front doors were locked, the back doors stood wide open. Upon entering, Portillo quickly saw that the room had been ransacked. Sammie, bruised and mangled, lay dead from strangulation.
Robbery appeared to be the motive for the attack on Sammie.Her purse was empty and her gun was missing. Her valuable jewelry, however, was left untouched. This led investigators to believe there might have been another reason for her murder, but who would do such a thing? Notably, Sammie’s beloved German Shepard, who surely might have fought off a stranger, had not appeared to have attacked anyone or made any noise. The brokenhearted dog refused to leave Sammie’s side as authorities removed the body.
There were few suspects, although Sammie had written to her family back home claiming that Mayor Thomas Miller’s son wanted to marry her and vowed revenge when she refused his proposal. Local folklore states the boy then mysteriously disappeared, but both of the mayor’s sons were actually 20 years younger than Sammie and lived in Jerome as late as 1940 and beyond. Sammie also had a boyfriend, “a hard miner and fighter” who likewise does not appear to have been questioned. George Dean’s whereabouts were unknown.
Sammie’s sister Virginia, along with her five children, made the sad trip to Jerome to claim Sammie’s body. Perhaps to protect the family, Sammie’s death certificate listed her as being born in Arkansas. Virginia signed off on the document and on July 13, Sammie’s body was taken back to Dallas for burial.
Sammie’s murder has never been solved. Her mother died in 1933. Virginia died in 1964 and Sammie’s brother Leo died in 1973. Today, Sammie is at rest with her family at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.