Darius Flinders was an 11-year-old boy who was growing up in Ogden shortly after the turn of the 20th century. He lived with his parents in a small house just across the street from what is now Marshall White Park. His father, Fred, was a real estate agent and his mother Hulda stayed home to care for Darius and his two siblings. Life in the Flinders household seemed to be pretty typical, until the afternoon of October 3rd, 1920. Around 5pm on October 3rd, the Flinders family, who had been driving around town in their car returned home to find 11-year-old Darius dead in his room. What followed next is one of the strangest deaths I’ve ever heard of.
Earlier in the day the Flinders family that at least included Fred, Hulda, and Darius were driving down Washington Blvd. I have a feeling that his older sister was with them as well, but not his older brother. According to Fred, Darius asked if they could drop him off at home because he really wanted to read. Fred was quick to tell the reporter that Darius really loved to read. They turned down 27th Ave to Grant and dropped him off at the house, then continued driving towards 13th Street to look at a house that Fred was having built. When they returned to the home around 5pm they found that Darius had been strangled to death in his room by a corduroy belt.
One of the first articles to be published about the death was by The Salt Lake Tribune the following day.[mfn]The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 4 Oct 1920, Mon · Page 3[/mfn]According to the article, Darius was strangled in his room while playing with friends. Specifically, the boys tied Darius to the post of his own bed with a belt that was placed around his neck. When the boys left the house, Darius tried to move, fell, and choked to death. The belt had been placed around Darius’ neck in such a way that it was not easy to undo, and when he fell, the weight of his body caused him to strangle to death.
The same day, the Ogden Standard-Examiner published a much more in depth report of the death. And in the headline itself, it says the the theory that Darius had been killed accidentally while playing with friends was wrong. The new theory was that he did it to himself. Fred Flinders said “the folks” went into the house and found Darius dead. Fred rushed in and while dead, Darius’ body was still warm. Who were the folks? I’m assuming it was Mrs. Flinders but who else was with her if not Fred? None of the articles are are clear about who exactly had been in the car that day.
Fred said the belt around his neck was from one of Darius’ coats, but not the coat he had been wearing earlier that day. The coat Darius had been wearing was found outside, along with his hat. According to Fred, they questioned the neighborhood boys and were told that they had been playing with Darius outside, but had not gone into the house. They told Fred and would later tell the Medical Examiner that Darius was playing with them outside and had gone into the house telling them he would be back out soon, leaving his coat and hat outside. One of the strangest things to me about this whole situation is Fred Flinders making a statement the day after his son was found dead, “There is nobody to be blamed. It looks like the affair will always be a mystery.“[mfn]The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) · 4 Oct 1920, Mon · Page 1[/mfn]
Fred then went on to say that the belt was tied in a way that it didn’t seem possible Darius could have tied it himself. Elaborating he said that the bed wasn’t high enough to cause strangulation unless Darius bent his knees. “It would have been possible for the boy to have been strangled elsewhere and then to have been taken to the bedroom and fastened to the bed.” In my opinion, to state that no one is to be blamed and it will always be a mystery and then follow that with such a statement is extremely odd to say the least. Finally, Fred suggested that Darius was possibly putting things away and slipped and fell and the belt became tangled in just the right way to kill him.
City Judge D.R. Roberts who was the ex-officio coroner interviewed the family as well as many of the boys in the neighborhood. He stated more investigation needed to be done before he could decide whether or not an inquest was required. It seems that whatever information he gleaned from talking to the various people satisfied him, and the following day stated that it was simply an unfortunate accident and no inquest would be held.
Along with the announcement that there would be no inquest there was also a statement saying that the closet in which Darius kept his clothes was too high for him to reach in order to put things away. According to the final police theory, Darius was standing with one foot on his bed, and the other precariously resting on the knob of the closet door. While Darius was in this position he slipped the belt around his neck while reaching for something in the closet. His foot slipped and as he fell the belt caught on the head of the bed choking him.
At the time of his death, Darius had two older siblings. His older brother was 13, and his sister was 12. According to his brother’s autobiography, shortly before Darius’ death the family had taken a trip to Yellowstone and that during that trip, Darius stepped on a rusty nail and had to receive tetanus shots. According to his brother, Darius was recovering just fine. The brother then goes on to relate the story of Darius’ death; he said that he and Darius and other neighborhood boys had their bikes and they rode off leaving Darius behind, with Darius shouting that he would catch up with them soon. He said his parents later found Darius dead and it was his opinion that there was no strangulation and it must have been an aftermath of the rusty nail and tetanus shots. I should point out that a tetanus vaccine wasn’t created until 1924, and not widely used until WW2. Treatment in 1920 would have been an injection of tetanus antitoxin, and I’m not certain they would have given it without him showing symptoms.[mfn]Battling Tetanus[/mfn]
The official cause of death was stated as: “Strangulation by hanging, dead when found. Contributory: No disease, whether suicidal or not, coroner unable to decide.” While the police / coroner’s theory is plausible, it leaves too many unanswered questions for me.
- Who were the people that actually found Darius? Was it Fred and Hulda?
- Who was in the car when they were driving around town? According to Darius’ brother’s autobiography he was at home or in the area when Darius died.
- Darius had the belt of a coat around his neck, yet he had a coat and hat that he left outside before running into the house. It seems unlikely he was there to get another coat. The weather for that day was said to be “generally fair, slightly warmer.”[mfn]The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah – Sunday, October 3, 1920[/mfn]
- If he needed both hands free while grabbing something from the closet, why would he wrap the belt around his neck instead of simply tossing it on the ground or bed? If he wrapped it around his neck why would he tie it in a knot?
- According to Fred’s statement the bed wasn’t high enough to strangle Darius unless his knees were bent. According to the death certificate there were no marks on the body. If he had hit his head on the bedpost hard enough to knock himself out, wouldn’t that have left some type of mark?
- Why was Fred so quick to assume it was just a freak accident and there was no one to blame? Even before the coroner announced his decision.
- If his death was caused somehow by the tetanus antitoxin that his brother recalled him getting many years later, why wasn’t any of that mentioned on the death certificate? It clearly stated that there were no contributory causes for his death.
In the end it turns out that Fred Flinders was at least partially correct; it looks like the affair will always be a mystery. Darius Flinders was buried in the Ogden City Cemetery and his grave can be located on 11th Ave just south of Hilltop Dr.