Jack Ryan was framed for a double murder by corrupt Humboldt County District Attorney Stephen Metzler in the 1920s during prohibition. I’ve known about Jack ever since I found the DA’s ego collection (newspaper clippings and more) in a trunk in a Eureka antique store years ago. I wrote about him briefly on my blog HERE but I woke up this morning knowing it was time to do more.
And so… I am looking for any and all information, stories, descriptions that anyone might have about Jack, his brother Walter David (strangled with barbed wire in an attempt to get Jack to confess), Metzler and/or others involved in the case. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or even share in the chat so others can see it.
Below you’ll find a time line of the case outlined by Northwestern University…
Chronology of the case of Jack Ryan
Compiled by Steve Art
— 2006, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law
October 7, 1925 — Twenty-one-year-old Henry Sweet and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Carmen Wagner, leave their homes in Eureka, California to go hunting on Coyote Flat, forty-five miles to the southeast.
October 11, 1925 — Sweet’s body is discovered in an abandoned cabin. He has been shot once in the back.
October 23, 1925 — Wagner’s body is found in a shallow grave near Baker Creek, a few miles from Coyote Flat. She has been shot twice and has skin and dried blood beneath her fingernails. Later that day, Walter David, Jack Ryan’s half-brother, is arrested in connection with the murders.
October 24, 1925 — Jack Ryan is arrested in connection with the murders. The two brothers have no known connection to the victims and were considered suspects only because they lived in the area and, in the vernacular of the press at the time, are considered “half breeds.” David has a verifiable alibi and is soon released. Ryan is charged with Wagner’s murder, which appears to be the stronger case.
March 12, 1926 — A jury of twelve white men returns a verdict of not guilty at the end of Ryan’s five-week trial.
January 1927 — Stephen Earl Metzler, a lawyer and bootlegger, is elected district attorney of Humboldt County after campaigning on the promise that he would solve the murders within two years. Upon assuming office Metzler sets about fulfilling his campaign promise. Rather than pursuing Bill Shields, an obvious suspect with a clear motive who has been placed at the scene of the crime by an eyewitness, Metzler makes him a strategist and consultant in the renewed investigation.
October 31, 1927 — David, Ryan’s half-brother, is found tortured and strangled to death with barbed wire.
November 1927 — Metzler attempts to intimidate Ryan, sending anonymous letters warning that a similar fate awaits him unless he confesses to the murders. This and other tactics to elicit a confession fail.
July 12, 1928 — Metzler pays a woman $100 to falsely accuse Ryan of having sex with her thirteen-year-old daughter. Ryan is arrested and charged with three counts of statutory rape. Out of fear of remaining in Humboldt County, Ryan pleads guilty to two counts of rape; the third count is dismissed. Ryan is immediately sentenced. That night, Metzler intensively interrogates Ryan.
July 13, 1928 — Following the all-night interrogation Ryan confesses to both murders. A second prosecution for the Wagner murder is barred on double jeopardy grounds, but without legal representation, Ryan pleads guilty to the Sweet murder. He is sentenced to life in prison and is taken to San Quentin State Prison the same day.
1930 — Metzler is indicted and convicted of conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act.
1939 — Franklin D. Roosevelt pardons Metzler.
1947 — The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs launches a reinvestigation of the Ryan cases. Metzler acknowledges to agents that he had set Ryan up, and that Shields had likely killed the couple. The Bureau’s report, issued the following year, is instrumental in Ryan’s parole.
May 11, 1953 — Ryan wins parole.
March 20, 1969 — Governor Ronald Reagan commutes Ryan’s life sentence to time served, in effect releasing him from parole.
August 23, 1978 — Ryan dies of natural causes.
April 15, 1996 — Governor Pete Wilson grants Ryan an unprecedented posthumous pardon after an extensive reinvestigation of the case by Richard H. Walton, a local DA’s investigator.