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A workplace dispute turned deadly near Three Forks. A woman with no reported name killed on a stairway in Belgrade. A woman murdered 20 years after she was a suspect in another homicide.

Don’t worry — these aren’t recent crimes, but rather the sordid stories detailed in local historian Kelly Hartman’s new book, “Murder and Mayhem in Gallatin County, Montana.”

The book, which details crimes ranging from the case of a woman poisoning her husband to the ordeal of Seth Danner, the only person executed at the former Gallatin County Jail (now Hartman’s workplace, the Gallatin History Museum), is scheduled to be released Oct. 4.

Hartman herself is adverse to violence and gore, so choosing to spend her time diving into the grisly details of murders from the late 1800s through the 1940s seems like an odd choice.

But Hartman said there is something intriguing about the “film noir” aspect of crimes from that time period.

“I think I’ve enjoyed ... doing the research and playing detective a little bit,” Hartman said.

“I think I just love doing that kind of research, digging into things that people haven’t looked at for such a long time.”

Hartman started her foray into true — if old — crime a few years ago, when she sought to learn the story of Danner after walking past the gallows where he was hung every time she went to work.

She wrote a book about Danner published in 2020, and his story sparked her interest in uncovering the details of crime among the lower and middle classes in Gallatin County’s yesteryear.

While the death of John Bozeman is well covered in local lore, Hartman noted the story of people like Danner, who was a working class traveler, are less known.

“We haven’t had a lot of these people’s stories told, especially in local histories,” Hartman said. “We have the railroad, we have Yellowstone, we have all these things, tourists, and we haven’t talked about those people, and how they create and build our communities.”

Hartman’s research started at the museum, which has the original jail records and a file dedicated to the topic of, well, murder. Hartman took the stories in those files and started matching them up with other research, using it to form a narrative of murder in Gallatin County during its more rough-and-tumble days.

A lot of the records were thin on details. For example, one record just stated that “Mrs. McCoy’s sister” had been found slain on the stairs of her Belgrade home. No year or name was attached.

Another file sticks out — the murder of Harry Walker, who went missing in the winter of 1919 and was found in the Madison River during the summer of 1920. There weren’t any leads until a Three Forks woman, Laura Adams, was brought in for questioning two years later.

Authorities held her for a while, but weren’t able to nail anything down.

While doing research, Hartman stumbled upon a file dedicated to Laura Adams. It contained her mugshot, which is an unusual find for a suspect of a murder so long ago, but the other names in her file weren’t adding up.

Then, Hartman turned the page to a photo of a woman, lying dead in the grass.

“It was pretty graphic. And I was like, ‘Wait, what am I looking at here?’ I thought this was Harry Walker’s murder, and it was actually the murder of Laura Adams,” Hartman said. “So it was something that I didn’t even realize that happened, and that was morbidly exciting to be able to connect those two.”

In researching specific murders, Hartman was able to trace some common themes and learn a lot about how life was during that time. For example, it became clear that the railroad slicing through the county was the root of a lot of crime, be it murders of people near the tracks or providing a mode of escape for suspects.

The Prohibition Era changed the nature of crime, Hartman said, and a common theme was that many murder suspects were first arrested on suspicions of having illegal alcohol. Hartman is working on another book, titled Wicked Bozeman, that will detail crimes during the same time period that didn’t involve murder.

The museum has tours scheduled for Oct. 2 and 9 that will feature stories from Hartman’s book, and Hartman is planning a presentation on her book Oct. 21 at the courthouse.

As Hartman writes in the introduction to her book, “the drama is in the aftermath, what comes next once murder is discovered.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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