Whenever I come across a headstone that was obviously made for two or more people and the one spot is left blank I always wonder what happened to the other person. Usually, the headstone is for a couple, or a family. I kinda feel bad for the person buried alone, when it was obviously meant for two. Silly, I know. Anyway, in the case of the Topham headstone I know what happened because Dora and Thomas Topham were pretty well known in Ogden around the turn of the 20th century. Dora Topham, you could say, was infamous.
You might recognize the name Dora Topham, or maybe it would be more familiar to you if I used her alias, Belle London. Belle London was 25th Street’s notorious Queen of the Underworld, the woman who owned a good chunk of property and was in charge of Ogden’s Electric Alley. Mrs. Topham deserves a post of her own, and we’ll save her story for another time.
A Sporting Man
Tom Topham was said to be a giant of a man, and very into sporting. So he was a big guy, a man’s man, and he was known to not shy away from a brawl. In fact, if he was drunk, there was a good chance he’d be the one instigating the brawl. I actually found a couple of newspaper articles about various fights he found himself in. Most of the reports say he clearly won each fight.
Thomas was born in Montreal, Canada on July 29th, 1861. Shortly after his birth his family moved to the United States and were living in Kansas in 1880. By 1886 the Topham’s had made their way west to Colorado and were living in Denver. Thomas and his father, Thomas Sr. were both Boilermaker’s and were working for the railroad.
Sometime between 1888 and 1890, Thomas Topham took the train west and landed in Ogden, Utah. He quickly found himself at home on Ogden’s wild 25th Street.
Moved to Ogden
Shortly after moving to Ogden, Thomas met and developed a relationship with Dora Belle Hughes. Dora had moved to Ogden and was running a rooming house on 25th Street. They married on May 1st, 1890 in Salt Lake City. ((Utah, Select County Marriages, 1887-1937))
During the 1890’s Tom Topham was the proprietor of the Mint Saloon, the building in which this saloon was housed is, unfortunately, no longer standing. The Mint Saloon was near the corner of 25th and Grant, where the Federal building is now. At that time the Mint was one of the most popular saloons along 25th Street and was well known for being where the action was.
In a 1936 interview, Ogden resident George Streeter claims that he was the last person in Ogden to speak with Cassidy. He said that Cassidy would often visit Ogden, and would stay at the Broom Hotel. The Broom Hotel was located on the northwest corner of Washington and 25th Street. It’s likely that Thomas Topham made the acquaintance of Butch Cassidy because he would visit the Mint Saloon when in town.
Trouble With The Law
On the 24th of September, 1899 a man named Charles Wessler came into the Mint Saloon looking for Thomas at about 1 am. Reports of what actually happened differ, but Wessler either asked Thomas for a loan or asked Thomas to pay him for Cigars he had given to Thomas previously. (Charles Wessler sold Cigars on 25th Street) Thomas gave him $5 and Wessler went upstairs presumably to play cards. A short time later Charles came back down and instigated an argument with Topham. Witnesses reported that Charles Wessler was drunk. A scuffle ensued with Thomas getting the better of Charles. Charles would say that two of Topham’s friends held him down while Thomas stomped on his chest and neck. Thomas and other witnesses would say that Charles hit Thomas in the face and during the fight, Thomas fell on top of Charles.
Whatever actually happened, the end result was that Charles Wessler died the following day, and Thomas Topham would soon be charged with murder.
For the next few weeks, the murder of Charles Wessler made the papers daily. The witnesses had different stories of what happened and evidence was minimal. Because Charles Wessler did not immediately go home following the incident, and there were reports of him being at various saloons after the fight with Topham detectives couldn’t say definitively that Thomas Topham was responsible for the injuries causing his death. On December 14th, 1899 the county attorney dismissed the charges against Tom claiming insufficient evidence.((Ogden Standard December 14th, 1899))
Trouble At Home
With his legal troubles behind him, things seemed to calm down for Thomas for a couple of years. But by March of 1902, his wife, Dora Topham filed for divorce citing neglect. Dora and Thomas must have patched up their problems because the divorce was never finalized and they were living together in 10 Electric Alley the following year.
Thomas Topham died unexpectedly early in the morning of Sunday, November 18th, 1906. He had a “stroke of paralysis” at around 10 pm on Saturday the 17th. By 2:30 the following morning he was dead. He was buried in the family plot at Mountain View Cemetery (now Aultorest) on November 20th.