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This report references one or more of the enduring lies that the inept horse thief and train robber Thomas Vernon told about himself:
that he was "Buffalo" Tom, the rodeo star; and that he was Thomas Averill, the fantasy love child of Jim Averill and Cattle Kate.
He was neither.
Los Angeles, Dec. 18. (AP) — Tom Vernon, ex-cowboy, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Folsom penitentiary in superior court here today for wrecking and robbing a Southern Pacific passenger train near Saugus last November 10.
He was given two sentences of life, one as a habitual criminal.
He confessed and pleaded guilty.
A peculiar legal twist served to bring two life terms to Vernon. The count of train wrecking provides an interchangeable penalty of a life sentence or death. The count of robbery classifies him as a habitual criminal, in view of his previous penal record. The penalty of life is mandatory.
Under the law an habitual criminal is not eligible for pardon or parole. Vernon has served five other prison terms, in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Death Penalty Sought
District Attorney Burton Fitts argued for the death penalty, because of Vernon's prior prison record, because of the great danger into which the lives of 100 persons were thrown when the train was wrecked and because he had used a deadly weapon. In response, the defense cited Vernon's quick confession, the aid he had given authorities in the clearing up of puzzling details and pointed out that no lives were lost in the derailment.
The passenger train was wrecked near Saugus, Cal., 40 miles north of here, the night of Nov. 10 by the loosening of rails. The engine and four cars tumbled into a ditch, but Engineer E.C. Ball was the only person hurt, suffering severe burns. A few minutes later a robber appeared in the last four coaches and held up the passengers, escaping with about $300.
Two weeks later, on Nov. 25, a passenger train on the Union Pacific lines near Cheyenne, Wyo., was wrecked and the passengers were robbed under similar circumstances. Vernon, who was arrested at Pawnee, Okla., by Deputy Sheriff Tom Higgins of Los Angeles after trailing him over several states, confessed the wreck near here but denied implication in the Wyoming derailment.
He is still wanted by Wyoming authorities but the sentence meted to him today makes it impossible to prosecute there.
1. Vernon was in fact paroled in the 1950s and pardoned in the 1960s.
• Full newspaper page (Courtesy of Donna Roth Phipps)
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