Halloween is a time that so many people wear masks.
People get to step out of their normal roles and act a little different for a day or two. They get to step outside the box and play pretend, turning from soccer moms and construction workers into vampires, sexy nurses, and kung-fu nuns.
It’s good to step outside the normal grind of everyday life for a bit, even if only for a few days in fall every year. Most will gladly take off their costumes at the end of long night of partying or trick or treating and put them away, stepping back into their normal, everyday roles.
There are some that wear their everyday faces like masks, and wear them year round. They blend in, hiding their true natures and intentions behind faces that don’t look out of place in the world they live in.
But when the moment is right, their outer façade melts away and their real faces are revealed, sometimes with deadly results.
On Saturday, December 20, 1902, Jerry Corcoran was just another blue collar worker who wanted to have a couple beers with some co-workers.
Jerry worked for one of the railroads that ran through Des Moines, Iowa, and he worked hard. Long hours of manual labor can take its toll on a person, and he was no exception. It was time that he and some co-workers enjoy the fruits of their labors.
With a check for $39 in his pocket, Jerry Corcoran headed into Des Moines and proceeded to knock back a few. He didn’t drink as much as his compatriots and he decided to leave the local watering hole where they had parked themselves at about 5 o’clock.
A short time later, he saw a long-time Des Moines resident and acquaintance named James Burns. Burns, whom everyone called ‘Slim,’ was glad to see him and the two were soon catching up. With Slim was another man named George Beveridge, who was fully welcomed into the conversation.
The men had decided to have a few more beers at the John Ba Tiese barber shop, where Slim had been renting a room. They were joined by another railroad worker named ‘Shorty’ Yelton, and soon the men were talking, drinking, and having a good time.
At about 7 p.m., the Ba Tiese’s stepped in and told the men that they couldn’t stay there and had to leave. When the warning had been issued, the couple left. Slim, Shorty, Corcoran, and Beveridge continued to drink for a while, and then all of them went to Slim’s rented room and passed out for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Ba Tiese noticed that Jerry Corcoran was sitting inside the doorway to a coal shed behind his shop. He had apparently passed out there sometime the night before. Ba Tiese walked over, put his hand on the man’s shoulder, and tried to awaken him. Corcoran’s limp form pitched forward and lay still. Ba Tiese quickly realized that the man was dead.
The police were called and quickly started their investigation.
Detectives noticed that Corcoran’s pockets had been gone through, as if someone had been looking for something. One pocket was turned inside out, while another had been cut. His coin purse strings had also been cut, and it was empty.
Inside his coat, investigators found some morphine in a paper packet. The coroner determined that Corcoran had died from morphine poisoning. This was later definitively confirmed by him after an autopsy was performed.
By Monday, a coroner’s inquest was held and new information came to light.
Testimony from Corcoran’s co-workers confirmed that he had a check for $38 on his person that night. Further investigation also found that Beveridge had been trying to cash a check for about that amount around town.
Almost immediately after the inquest, Beveridge and Burns were placed under arrest and interrogated. Neither man claimed to know Corcoran, and denied having been aware of seeing him that night. Beveridge claimed that he had a check, but that it was given to him by Burns to cash. Beveridge had tried to do as he was asked, but no one he took it to would cash it.
For his part, an extremely nervous Burns insisted that he knew Beveridge had a check that he was trying to cash, but he had never given it to him. Both of them insisted that they had never met Corcoran before, and that they were only aware there was a stranger drinking with them. Beveridge even claimed that Corcoran had never been at the Ba Tiese’s barber shop.
However, the Ba Tiese testimony completely contradicted what Burns and Beveridge claimed.
John and his wife both said that Corcoran had been at their home, and that the three men had been drinking together.
Corcoran’s co-workers told police that they knew he had a check for $38 when they had all come into Des Moines together. They also insisted that he didn’t use morphine, and that he hadn’t even drank for nearly six months prior to the day he died, a fact of which he was very proud.
Burns and Beveridge were put in jail on suspicion of murder. The Ba Tiese’s were also held, even though the police didn’t think that they had any actual involvement in the murder itself.
Police believed that Burns and Beveridge had, during the course of the evening, decided to drug Corcoran and steal his money. When the man had died, either accidentally or on purpose, the two had searched the man for his check and other valuables, and then dragged Corcoran’s body to the coal shed.
Within a few days, their suspicions were confirmed when Beveridge confessed that he had watched Burns put morphine into Corcoran’s beer while they were at the barber shop. He also claimed that the Ba Tiese’s had been drinking with them.
Beveridge had been sent out twice for beer and ham hocks, and he found Corcoran unconscious in a bedroom after returning from the second trip.
After he and Burns had removed the body, the two men had gone to a local saloon, where Burns tried to cash Corcoran’s check. The bartender refused, so they went to a different bar. Beveridge tried this time, but spelled Corcoran’s name wrong. The bartender there noticed this, and also refused to cash the check.
After more tries, Burns had Beveridge sign the back, and then got an acquaintance of his to go cash it for a $3 of the check.
The next day, Burns confessed to George that he must have accidentally put too much morphine into Corcoran’s beer and killed him.
Police followed up on the confession, and found the man Burns and Beveridge had gotten to cash the check. For his part, the unwitting accomplice was convinced that Beveridge was Corcoran based off what he had been told on December 20.
It was also revealed that the Ba Tiese’s weren’t exactly who they claimed to be. As a matter of fact, Ba Tiese wasn’t even their real name.
Their actual name was Aaron, a fact revealed when Carrie Ba Tiese signed her testimony from the coroner’s inquest with that name. The court clerk had asked her about the mistake, but Carrie had nervously stated that she had accidentally signed her middle name. It was definitely enough to make the police suspicious in a case where nearly everyone was lying.
The Aaron’s, as it turned out, had come from Sioux City, and had been kicked out of that city just a few months before.
To be specific, John Aaron had been kicked out of Sioux City for attempted murder.
During an argument, Aaron had shot a man named Louis Agnes and then left him for dead. Aaron had gotten out of Sioux City fast, and police decided to not press charges. As it turned out, Aaron had been a nuisance for several years, and they were just glad to be rid of him.
Aaron had been in frequent trouble with law enforcement since his youth, when he and his father, who was also a barber, had gotten into a heated argument that had ended with the two using razors against each other.
Aaron continued to be a habitual offender, and frequently spent time in and out of jail.
Carrie Aaron had started her adult life as a school teacher, and had been married and had a child. Her first husband had suddenly left her, and Carrie’s life took a drastic turn for the worse after that.
The child was sent to live with a sister while Carrie descended into morphine and cocaine addiction. Along the way, she had met John Aaron.
She had been sick, and Aaron had, somewhat uncharacteristically, helped nurse her back to health. Carrie had been smitten, and the eventually married. But their marriage was not a happy one.
Both of them were drug users, and John frequently beat Carrie. She would never press charges against him, using excuses like falling down and hitting things to explain her wounds.
One day, Carrie had enough and left John. She went and joined the Salvation Army for nearly two years, but, for unknown reasons, returned to him, where the cycle of abuse started all over again.
They were together when Aaron was kicked out of the city for attempted murder, and they went back to Sioux City two months after that. Aaron was arrested again, and this time agreed to voluntarily leave. The couple packed up again and moved to Des Moines, where John opened his barber shop.
At first, John Ba Tiste insisted to Des Moines police that none of this true. Sure, they’d lived in Sioux City, but he wasn’t this Aaron character they kept talking about. He kept insisting even after he was positively identified by a former acquaintance that was able to successfully point him out amongst twenty other inmates.
Mr. and Mrs. Aaron, Beveridge, and Burns were all officially indicted with murder and the case proceeded down the long legal road to trial. Finally, in February of 1903, the Aaron’s decided to stop pretending and give a full confession.
The Aaron’s Confession
They both said that they had nothing to do with the actual murder, insisting that fell squarely on ‘Slim’ Burns.
John claimed that Carrie had called him home from a local saloon on the day of the murder. She said that Burns was planning on robbing Corcoran, and Carrie wanted him out of the house.
John found the men in the bedroom, but Corcoran was the only one who was drunk at the time. He told them to finish their can of beer and then to get out, which they did. The Aaron’s then left to go shopping and didn’t see the men again that night.
The next morning, Burns came to Aaron and told him that Corcoran was dead in his back yard. He said that he was going to get out of town, and asked Aaron not to say anything about him having been there with Corcoran.
Aaron told him that he wasn’t going to have anything to do with it, and that Burns would have to face what he had done.
Carrie and George Beveridge’s confessions matched John’s pretty close. Beveridge was the only one who had seen Burns actually poison Corcoran, and Burns had confided to Carrie about wanting to rob the man.
The trial was smooth and relatively swift.
Burns was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Jerry Corcoran. Beveridge was given a lighter sentence for his involvement, and the Aarons were set free.
Within a few months, John Aaron was arrested after being seen by police in Sioux City. He was sent to jail for vagrancy. The city had enough of him before, and they apparently weren’t about to welcome him back.
When Carrie heard, she came to Sioux City and tried to raise money to pay for John’s release. Without any great legal means to raise money, she quickly turned to prostitution. Carrie was arrested and imprisoned.
When she was brought before the judge, he took pity on her. She was released and given a train ticket so that she could return home to her mother in Washta, Iowa.
Both George Beveridge and James Burns were sent to prison. While Beveridge quietly served his time at Anamosa State Penitentiary, Burns was sent to Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa, where he was anything but quiet.
Almost from the beginning, he found himself at odds with the prison officers. He was placed in solitary confinement, where he started to have a mental breakdown. Burns eventually contracted Tuberculosis, and brooding on his chronic condition helped hasten his decent into madness. In 1908, he was placed in the insane ward of the prison, where he passed away.
Life often seems straightforward, even when it comes to crime. The essentials of murder are almost always the same – one person or persons end the life or lives of others. It’s after this most basic fact that it becomes complicated.
Motivations can be classified and grouped together, but this is almost always done after the crime has been committed. While some people will openly declare their intent to commit a crime, there are many others that hide their reasons and intent in the most hidden parts of their minds.
It’s people like this that wear their everyday faces like Halloween masks. They look like everyday folks – teachers, doctors, laborers. But behind that façade is their true face, twisted by evil and selfish desires, revealed to the light like a monster at the highlight of a horror film.
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‘Mystery in Des Moines’ The Courier, 12/22/1902
‘Corcoran’s Death Was Mysterious.’ The Register and Leader, 12/22/1902
‘A Murder Mystery.’ Evening-Times Republican, 12/22/1902
‘Jerry Corcoran was Murdered.’ The Des Moines Register, 12/23/1902
‘Warrants Out for Four.’ The Daily Times, 12/31/1902
‘Jack Ba Tiese Has A Record.’ The Register and Leader, 1/4/1903
‘Who Mrs. Aaron Is.’ Sioux City Journal, 1/8/1903
‘An Iowa Product is Mrs. Aaron.’ The Register and Leader Saturday Morning, 1/10/1903
‘”Batistes” Are indicted.’ Sioux City Journal, 1/14/1903
‘The Manchester Democrat-Radio, 1/14/1903
‘Aarons are indicted.’ The Sioux City Journal, 1/15/1903
‘Aarons Not Ready to Plead.’ The Register and Leader, 1/23/1903
‘Aarons Arraigned.’ Sioux City Journal, 1/25/1903
‘Four Indicted for Corcoran Murder.’ The Manchester Democrat-Radio, 1/28/1903
‘How Jerry Corcoran died Told in Detail to Officers.’ The Register and Leader, 2/15/1903
‘Aaron Makes a Confession.’ Sioux City Journal, 2/17/1903
‘Case of Burns is Continued.’ The Register and Leader, 2/20/1903
‘James Burns Guilty.’ Evening-Times Republican, 3/21/1903
‘Burns Wants A New Trial.’ Davenport Morning Star, 4/18/1903
‘Life for James Burns.’ Sioux City Journal, 4/21/1903
‘To Release the Aarons.’ Sioux City Journal, 5/10/1903
‘Murder Charge Dismissed.’ Evening Times-Republican, 5/11/1903
‘Aarons are Released.’ Sioux City Journal, 5/12/1903
‘”Jack” Aaron Back Again.’ Sioux City Journal, 7/24/1903
‘Mrs. Jack Aaron Arrested.’ Sioux City Journal, 7/26/1903
‘School Teacher’s Sad Fall.’ Sioux City Journal, 7/28/1903
‘Parole Not Needed Now.’ The Register and Leader, 9/22/1908