Tragedy in Golden Valley County, Montana
April, 1938, local rancher, W.L. "Lee" Simpson confessed to murdering his hired hands, brothers Robert and Gerald MacDonald, and Deputy Sheriff Arthur "Buzz" Burford. The bodies of the slain brothers had been transported by Simpson and his wife to an area near the Roundup golf course and hidden. Deputy Sheriff, Burford, not knowing the MacDonald boys had been killed, had gone to the Simpson ranch with Sheriff Elmer Dolve to speak to Mr. Simpson about other matters.
Robert O. MacDonald
February 10, 1917 ~ April 10, 1938
Simpson confessed to murdering Robert by shooting the 20-year old in the back while he opened a gate for Simpson.
Gerald E. MacDonald
August 27, 1919 ~ April, 11, 1938
Simpson confessed to murdering Gerald by hitting the teenaged boy in the head with an ax while he was bent over working in a barn.
Arthur "Buzz" Burford
September 21, 1894 ~ April 14, 1938
Simpson confessed to and was found guilty of the shooting death of Buzz Burford. Buzz and sheriff Elmer Dolve, not knowing the MacDonald boys had been murdered, went to the Simpson place on a "business" matter, arriving there at about 5:30 p.m. Simpson ambushed the two officers by firing on them with a rifle from an upstairs window in the house. In the ensuing gun battle, the officers' soon ran out of ammunition.
Buzz, severely wounded in the leg during the first few minutes of the ambush, was pinned down behind the sheriff's car for several hours. After dark, Simpson emerged from the house and fired several rounds into Buzz at close range.
Sheriff Dolve managed to escape on foot into the darkness. His hat (with a bullet hole in the crown) is on display at the Golden Valley Courthouse in Ryegate.
The Crime Scene
The Simpson ranch house shortly after the arrest of W.L. "Lee" Simpson.
Simpson ambushed Sheriff Elmer Dolve and Deputy Sheriff Buzz Burford from the upstairs window on the right.
Carl Fulkerson, Shawmut
Melvin Rasmusson, Lavina
W.H. Northey, Ryegate
Gunnar Bergsing, Barber
John J. Neuharth, Rothiemay
Dan T. Hart, Belmont
J. Bonner, Belmont (Alternate)
Carl Brovold, Lavina
H. Bukoskey, Ryegate
Frank Schanz, Ryegate
J. Brown, Rothiemay
Ed. Olson, Belmont
Axel Johnson, Cushman
Joe Schanz, Ryegate (Alternate)
H.G. Todd, Ryegate G.H. Belcher, Cushman
Invitation To Execution
W.L. "Lee" Simpson, was tried and convicted for the murder of deputy sheriff, Buzz Burford, during a gun battle on April 14, 1938. (Simpson also confessed to killing the young MacDonald brothers, Robert and Gerald, on April 10 and April 11, respectively.)
The gallows was brought to Ryegate from Forsyth, Montana, and erected adjacent the Golden Valley County Courthouse.
On December 30, 1939, at approximately 2 a.m., Lee Simpson climbed the 13 steps to the hangman's noose. In the presence of 500 invited witnesses, Simpson dropped through the trap at 2:14 a.m. He was pronounced dead 16 minutes later.
This was one of the last public executions by hanging in Montana.