Tale of mysterious 1966 hit and run death draws strong interest from readers

By Kevin S. Giles

My recent post about the lingering mysterious hit and run death of 63-year-old widow Montana Martinz attracted a record number of readers to my website.

Within two days, the number of “hits” topped 1,000. My story also generated dozens of emails and instant messages from readers who ventured theories about who drove the car that killed Mrs. Martinz in Deer Lodge, Mont., on Oct. 15, 1966. Most commonly stated was that the driver was “the son of a prominent businessman,” coupled with another persistent theory that the driver disappeared after police began investigating. Some people remain convinced that a young teenager drove the car that killed her. Others think the driver was a young adult, in one case the father of new twins who moved his family out of town soon afterwards. Many readers used the word “coverup” to explain their interpretation of the mystery.

If you’re just now joining us, here’s some brief background: A coroner’s jury empaneled soon afterwards concluded that two and possibly three drivers were racing when Mrs. Martinz was struck. Paint chips taken from her body indicated the car that hit her was a new, blue, 1966 model Chevrolet or Buick. The jury ruled that she died “by an automobile driven in a careless and reckless and criminally negligent manner by a person unknown.”

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Fifty years later, rumors linger over the hit and run death of a 63-year-old woman

Scene of hit and run: Fifth Street and Texas Avenue, Deer Lodge, Montana

This is the intersection in Deer Lodge, Mont., where Montana Martinz was hit. Her house was down the street ahead and just around the corner. She was walking home from the grocery store.

The following story was compiled from public court records, newspaper coverage and interviews with public officials and residents. Thanks to Gary Newlon for his research assistance.

By Kevin S. Giles

Half an hour past twilight, with only a sliver of a moon rising, Montana Martinz began her fateful walk home.

Cradling a sack of groceries, the 63-year-old woman left the IGA supermarket on the main street of Deer Lodge, Montana. It was Oct. 15, 1966. The wind off the mountains felt cold. She stepped briskly through pools of light under the streetlamps.

Four blocks later, she entered the intersection of Fifth Street and Texas Avenue. She was three minutes from her house at 524 Conley Avenue. Mrs. Martinz lived alone. A year earlier, her husband Peter had died at St. Joseph Hospital of coronary thrombosis. Their only child, a son, was grown and gone.

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A saved Rialto Theater: A championship team trophy for Deer Lodge, Montana

Steve Owens in the Rialto Theater.

Steve Owens, president of Rialto Community Theater, Inc., in the reconstructed hallway leading to the balcony. Photos by Kevin Giles

By Kevin S. Giles

The fire was so horrific that it lit the night sky for miles. It consumed the priceless 1921 theater with frightening urgency. In the end, most of the ornate movie palace was gone.

Three days later, after dozens of volunteer firefighters poured three million gallons of water on the inferno’s sad work, the people of Deer Lodge, Montana, took stock of their Rialto Theater.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot

 

The terra cotta Beaux-Arts façade stood, a near-miracle. Most of the stage remained, as did five original painted canvas backdrops. A fire curtain fell when the heat rose, saving the back portion of the Rialto.

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Author of ‘Summer of the Black Chevy’ talks about the story behind the novel.

Kevin S. Giles

After floating the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, in western Montana, with family.

What’s happened in the four months since you published Summer of the Black Chevy?

I’ve found that I did OK with my first attempt at a novel. Right before it goes on sale, you know, there’s that twinge of regret that the story isn’t good enough, that it won’t pull readers through, that it will be greeted with stony silence.

Did that happen?

To the contrary, it’s receiving positive reviews. Sure, some people read it and stay quiet afterwards and I figure it didn’t resonate with them and that’s fine. Nobody agrees on everything. Writing, like any form of the arts, is a subjective craft. Of all the compliments I’ve heard, I value two the most. The first is when people say they identify with the characters, reminding them of people they know. The second is that the novel takes them back to remembering the pendulum swings of their own teenage years. Nobody forgets growing up. For each person those memories might warm that heart or they might bring hurt. Summer of the Black Chevy explores both of those themes.

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Memories of summer jobs, and that oh-so-regrettable mosquito truck incident

Cousins Hugh Wales and Earl Cook (right) outside hop kiln, Yakima Valley, in the summer of 1967.

Cousins Hugh Wales and Earl Cook (right) outside hop kiln, Yakima Valley, in the summer of 1967.

By Earl Cook

Kevin’ S. Giles’ story, Summer of the Black Chevy, took me to a time and place where our community had a spirit of vitality and promise. Young Paul Morrison was typical of many young people then who started early on with some work after school, or on weekends, and then a summer job. Opportunities to work were plentiful.

I once delivered the news. Grade school. It was The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Sunday edition, delivered Monday after dinner. Twenty cents a copy. It was a tough sell and I had but seven to 11 regular customers, for a very short run. It was hell going door to door in sub-zero temperatures. I believe my customers subscribed out of empathy. I got to keep a dime for each paper sold. And though I wasn’t going to get rich, it was worth its weight in “funny papers.”

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Childhood houses, changing times, and the meaning of being at ‘home’

Here's my final home in Deer Lodge, Montana. It was the last of six houses where various stages of my youth took place.

Here’s my final home in Deer Lodge, Montana. It was the last of six houses where various stages of my youth took place. I returned here many times, but as an adult. It was a homey place, a refuge.

By Kevin S. Giles

I lived in six houses in the 12 years I spent in public schools, all of them in Deer Lodge, Montana. Each time we moved I left a piece of me behind, less perceptible than the pencil marks on the walls where my mother measured my escalating height. Scattered behind me, like pages ripped from a diary, were memories formed by physical proximity. They linger in the shape of walls and size of rooms, and the number of rooms, and stairwells and pantries, and dim lights that made it tough to see a textbook at the kitchen table after dinner. Physical spaces frame events and interactions that make us who we are. It’s destiny to find our more mature selves in unfamiliar rooms of the next house.

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Atop the prison wall during a riot: A memory captured for the ages

1959 Montana prison riot

Officer Murry Giles, kneeling on the wall outside Tower 7 at Montana State Prison, steadies a ladder for ascending state troopers who arrived in Deer Lodge on April 16, 1959, after inmates took control of the prison.

By Kevin S. Giles

A front-page picture from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows my father crouched atop the wall surrounding Montana State Prison. It’s dark, and he’s reaching to help rifle-bearing Highway Patrol officers climbing ladders in the glare of floodlights. That clipping made him proud. He kept it folded in an envelope in his closet, evidence of his participation in quelling a prisoner takeover in 1959 that included the gunshot slaying of Deputy Warden Ted Rothe.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot

 

Children of prison guards never knew much of what their parents did — and still don’t. Drama behind walls and fences and bars is the stuff of compelling stories but seldom does any of it emerge into public view. Rarely does a prison guard at work hit the papers as explicitly as when a news photographer captured my dad, Murry Giles, helping those state troopers scale the big sandstone prison wall.

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Two books, one small Montana hometown, 800 pages of storytelling

Main Street in Deer Lodge, Montana, photo by Pat Hansen of the Montana Standard

Main Street in Deer Lodge, Montana, as it looked in 2013. This photo, by Pat Hansen, was published in the Montana Standard with a story about guided walking tours.

Since I wrote this post I’ve published a third book of interest to Montanans: my biography, One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story.

By Kevin S. Giles

A wise uncle told me once that when I found a good place to live, don’t blab about it. There’s no faster way to ruin paradise, he counseled me, than putting it on the map.

Sorry about that, uncle. The secret’s out.

I’ve written about Deer Lodge, Montana, in my two latest books, which I imagine is just about the most anybody has written about a hometown anywhere in Montana. I doubt either book will start a stampede to Deer Lodge. Word’s getting around, though. It’s a town that’s climbing in the search engine rankings, and in today’s digital world, that’s something.

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Rough and rumble on a hot August night in 1958 in Deer Lodge, Montana

Main Street in 1950s Deer Lodge, Montana

In the 1950s, Main Street in Deer Lodge, Montana, was a happening place with not one — but two — stop lights. Teenagers found the long wide street, also known as State Hwy. 10, great for cruisin’ (and sometimes looking for a bruisin’).

By Suzanne Lintz Ives

The gangs in my high school time were from Anaconda. Hairy girls tucked cigarettes packs into their rolled up T-shirt sleeves. They were tougher and meaner than bear. They were really scary.

One Sunday afternoon, a couple of those wild females ones from Anaconish (as we sometimes called the neighboring town of ruffians), were quietly strolling Main Street in Deer Lodge. My gang and I (five of us) were cruising the drag in my Dad’s Pontiac (the one with the clutch), when my buddy, Dood, yelled out the window, “Hey, look at that! Street walkers!”

That’s when the brown, sticky stuff hit the centrifuge …

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Memories of an older brother from Montana: Vietnam killed him, but years after the war

Dan after Tet

Dan McElderry, shown in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive and before he was wounded three times. Dan eventually left Vietnam, but he never escaped it. (Photo courtesy of Bob McElderry Sr.)

By Bob McElderry Sr.

(Bob writes about his older brother Dan McElderry, who graduated from Powell County High School in Deer Lodge, Montana, in 1967. Dan joined the Marines with three other young men from the same town when it became apparent they would drafted in the Army if they didn’t enlist. The recruiter promised them they would stay together in a “Montana platoon” but the Marines quickly split them up. Bob’s words about his brother will resonate with many Vietnam combat veterans.)

Like the small Montana town he grew up in, he was friendly, fresh and full of hope for the future. He was engaged to his sweetheart, a high school cheerleader and a gal many guys had pursued. He spent his days picking up odd jobs and his evenings working at the local post office.

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