The Story of a Murder in Hubbard City, Texas.

I came across this story in the Texas Criminal Reports citing a case from 1888/9. It was an appeal from a murder conviction, John D. Pitts v. The State, No. 3040, Decided February 25, 1889.

It goes something like this: John Dayton Pitts, came to Texas from Georgia and according to the census of 1900, he was a lawyer here in town. He even graduated from Cornell University. Mr. Pitts was born in 1855 and in 1888, at the time of the murder, he was about 33 years old. In 1889, Hubbard was still basically a wild town. While there were stores, and drug stores, and doctors and lawyers, there was also a house of prostitution according to the case.

On with the story… On March 13, 1888 (or 1889 according to the appeal documents) , at about 12 ‘o’clock, John Pitts shot and killed Dave Stern here in downtown Hubbard City, Texas. Dave Stern was a merchant here in Hubbard. Dave Stern was Jewish and came to this country from possibly Russia in 1882, according to the records. He was born in 1852, which would have made him 36 at the time he was shot and killed. His wife was residing in New Orleans at the time of his death and that is where he is buried. According to:

The Times-Picayune
New Orleans, Louisiana
25 Mar 1888, Sun • Page 4

John Pitt was married and his wife was also in her 30’s at the time of the incident. They lived on Walnut Street, but I cannot clarify the exact house.

This is where the story begins. There was a hotel in Hubbard City called the Covington Hotel. It was reputed to be a house of prostitution run by a Mrs. Covington. Mrs. Covington had, prior to the murder, been charged and acquitted of running a disorderly house. Mr. Pitt assisted in prosecuting Mrs. Covington and Mr. Stern took an interest in Mrs. Covington’s affairs in more ways than one. (There is no other information on Mrs. Covington. Who she was is consigned to history).

John Pitts heard that Stern had said, “Pitts need not be cutting up about Mrs. Covington because his wife, Mrs. Pitts, was no better than Mrs. Covington as she had gone to the Covington Hotel and begged Mrs. Covington for a job and she was broke and destitute and needed something to do; and if Mrs. Pitts had a child in 3 or 4 months, it would not be John Pitts’ child.” Evans denied making the statement and even said he would apologize to Mr. Pitts for any slight given to Mrs. Pitts. The day prior to his murder, Mr. Stern was walking down the street and went in to a drugstore to purchase a cigar. Mr. Pitts saw him and said to another man, “There is that son of a bitch, don’t let him come this way.” Mr. Stern did not come that way and at that time was unarmed. The next day, Tuesday, on March 13, 1888, Stern was walking on the street and Pitts came from his home, armed with a double barreled shotgun and he called to Stern, “Stern, Stern, you son of a bitch,” and shot him once, wounding him in the face and head, killing him instantly. Stern, at the time, was armed with a 6 shooter in his hip pocket, but had made no attempt to use it.

The trial was held on October 20, 1890. Pitts was convicted of murder in the second degree was was given only 5 years in the penitentiary (Huntsville).

Pitts appealed the verdict by stating that Stern’s language was grossly insulting to his wife and he acted in a fit of passion to defend the honor of his wife. He also had a witness who stated that he had caught Stern and Mrs. Covington in bed together. The Court stated that since Pitts didn’t know this fact before he killed Mr. Stern, this could not have attributed to the passion in killing Stern. The Court denied his appeal and he was sent off to Huntsville Prison. It does not look like he actually went to Huntsville until March 23, 1891.

Only a year later, John Pitts was granted a pardon by the Governor of Texas at the time, Governor J. S. Hogg. This was attested to by many men around the area and due to the fact that he was a trustee and his father was supposedly ill, he was released in 1892.

Was his father really ill? Well, we may never know. His father passed away in California in 1904. John Pitts and his wife were here in Hubbard in 1900 living on Walnut Street. Later, he moved to Mount Calm. By 1904, he and his family were living in California and he was a still a practicing lawyer and dabbled in property. In 1905 we find him giving a lecture on the Bible.

Los Angeles Evening Express
Los Angeles, California
31 Aug 1905, Thu  •  Page 4

Pitts also became interested in a death row case:

The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California
29 Dec 1907, Sun  •  Page 9

The murder of Mr. Stern must have weighed on his mind. He passed away in May of 1919 at the age of 64 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery with many of the famous stars of the era. He remained married to his wife Carrie, who died in 1918 and is also buried in Forest Lawn. He had 2 children, Mabel and Marion. Marion was born in September of 1888 and died at the age of about 38 in California, and is buried with his parents. Marion had a rough time of it evidently, and was placed in the Norwalk State Hospital for the Insane according to his draft registration card in 1917/18.

Norwalk Hospital founded in 1915/16

Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys was treated at this hospital after she had suffered a mental break down. Bela Lugosi is another famous former patient, admitted for 90 days in 1955 to treat his morphine addiction.

The daughter of John Pitts, Marian, married and had two children. She died at the age of 63 in Los Angeles.

Should I find any further information of Dave (David) Stern, will update a post at a later time.

There is always a story to be found and lives behind the headlines and the tombstones.