A Wild Crime In A Wild Town
“Marie Juanita Loveless, who would later go by the name Sammie Dean, was born in 1892 in Texas to her parents Oscar Loveless and Virginia ‘Jennie’ Lee Loveless. When Sammie Dean was 3 years of age her father would pass away, and one year later her mother remarried. Her stepfather was named James Landwermeyer, a fellow widower with four children from his first marriage. James and Jennie would go on to have a child of their own together, named Leo, in 1900. Unfortunately, Jennie’s second husband would die shortly after, in 1905, and this left the family struggling to make ends meet.
The family would move to Dallas, Texas, and in 1910, Sammie and her mother would gain employment together at a factory that produced overalls. Later that same year, Sammie would go on to work at Sanger Brothers Dried Goods and Clothing Store. Once 1914 rolled around, it seemed that Sammie was no longer living in Dallas, Texas. In fact, she wouldn’t be accounted for on record for an additional 6 years. At some point during this time, Sammie would meet and marry a man named George Dean, only described as a gambler. The pair were accounted for on a 1920 census, where they appeared to be living with Sammie’s mother, back in Dallas. George’s job was listed as the proprietor of a smoke shop.
Once again, in 1920, Sammie would disappear from the record. There were rumors that Sammie had taken on brothel work in Colorado to make ends meet, before winding up in Arizona. We also lose track of George Dean, who is said to have left Sammie in Jerome, Arizona when they divorced.
At the time, Jerome was called ‘The Wickedest Town In America,’ by the New York Sun, due to its many brothels to satisfy the endless amount of miners passing through town. Sammie was taking care of herself and making ends meet, though. After the divorce, she owned her own car and expensive jewelry. It was rumored that Sammie kept a large amount of cash in her suite in one of Jerome’s best brothels, where she was employed. At the time, her residence was located in the old Crib District, also known as ‘Husband’s Alley.’ Sammie fit right into Jerome, a bustling mining town sitting on the side of a mountain, just north of Prescott. Sammie was known to have many friends and a handful of admirers around town.
On the morning of July 10, 1931, Sammie was spotted by a neighbor in town and stated that she had been wearing a green dress at the time. Sammie had also made plans around noon that day, to spend time with her friends. Around 8:30 am, a witness had seen a white man in a Panama hat enter Sammie’s home but it was never determined who this man was, or why he was entering Sammie’s home. Later that afternoon, when her friends came knocking on her door at their scheduled time and no one answered. Once 6 pm rolled around, her friends began to get nervous, wondering if Sammie was alright. Sammie’s best friend, Leo Portillo, decided it was time to check on Sammie, making his way to her home. Once he got there, he noticed the front doors were securely locked but as he walked around the back, he saw that the back doors were left wide open. Hesitantly, he entered the home, finding that it had been completely ransacked. Not only that, Sammie Dean was lying dead on the floor, covered in bruises. She was wearing only a slip, with a blanket haphazardly thrown over her.
Sammie’s cause of death was determined to be strangulation, and it appeared that robbery was the motive. Her weapon had been stolen and her purse was emptied, yet, the expensive jewelry Sammie owned was still present in the house. This led investigators to wonder if there was another motive that had led to the killing and if the robbery was staged to cover that up. Sammie’s beloved dog, a German Shepard, was left unharmed, and it appeared that he hadn’t attacked anyone. No neighbors had reported hearing any barking, either. The poor dog, who was so attached to his owner, refused to leave Sammie’s side as officers removed her body.
Sammie’s older sister, Virginia, made the trip from Dallas to Jerome to claim her sister’s body, with her five children in tow. Strangely, in a way to protect the family, Sammie’s place of birth was listed as Arkansas, instead of Texas. This death certificate was signed off on July 13th, and her body was soon afterward returned to Dallas to be buried in a family plot in Calvary Hill Cemetery.
A few suspects came to light in the days after the slaying, but not many, as the police had very little to work with. Sammie herself had made mention, in a letter to her family, how Mayor Thomas Miller’s son, Jack, had asked for her hand in marriage, and she refused. She stated that when she refused his proposal, he was furious and vowed to get revenge on her. There were local rumors that the son then disappeared shortly after the murder. However, both of the Mayor’s sons were 20 years younger than Sammie, and both were accounted as living in Jerome as late as the 1940s, if not longer. Another person of interest was Sammie’s current boyfriend, who was described as ‘a hard miner and a fighter,’ who appears to have never been questioned. As far as George Dean, it’s unclear where he was at the time of the murder.
The official list of suspects was four names long: Tom Miller, the mayor himself, Jack Miller, his son, Bert Owens, the sheriff’s son, and Leo Portillo, the man who found Sammie’s body, her best friend, and a waiter at the local New York Cafe. Strangely, Burt Owens did leave town directly after the murder, and this left most of the town’s residents to conclude that he was in fact the killer. Despite this, no arrests were ever made, and the murder of Sammie Dean has gone unsolved for nearly 100 years.
Whether you buy into ghost stories or not, Jerome is considered one of the most haunted towns in the west- something of pride, and financially beneficial, to the tiny mountain community. It is stated that Sammie Dean is one of the many spirits that roam the town, often being ‘sighted’ in the old Crib District, and near the former Clinkscales Hotel. Another strange, but interesting, fact that lends to the idea that Jerome is haunted, is that during its hay day, when bodies were cremated, they mixed the dead’s ashes with concrete to form the sidewalks of the city. Whether this left spirits roaming the town, or simply a way to attract visitors with an eerie tale, is unknown but, if you’re ever near Jerome, Arizona, it’s absolutely worth the trip if for nothing but the incredible view itself. If you end up there, please take a moment to acknowledge Sammie Dean, whose story has not been forgotten, even 91 years later.”