Larry Ohman’s maternal grandmother boarded in Butte at the Empire Hotel. She resided on the dark edge of the city’s red-light district. Fellow boarders included people with lives of quiet desperation.
Theresa Evans lived a complicated life.
Her fourth husband seemingly disappeared after the couple failed at running a bar in Butte. The Empire Hotel where she ended up housed denizens of Butte’s shadows — pimps, prostitutes and gamblers — along with people simply struggling to get by.
On April 19, 1940, Evans was brutally beaten in her room at the hotel. She died three days later from a subdural hematoma. She was 37 years old. She had been married four times during her brief life and had given birth to five children.
She was buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Anaconda.
Nearly 80 years later, Evans’ grandson, Anaconda native Larry Ohman, decided to plumb the murky circumstances of Theresa Evans’ murder, a crime for which no one was prosecuted.
His research turned into a self-published book, “Lady in Room Number Nine.” The 201-page book incorporates the facts Ohman uncovered and employs fiction to fill narrative gaps and put words in the mouths of people long dead.
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“No one was prosecuted or convicted for the beating and eventual death of my grandmother,” Ohman writes in the book’s introduction. “The prosecutor elected not to pursue prosecution, for unclear reasons, and the primary suspect was released.”
The book does not nail down who killed Evans but it does propose three possible suspects, with the most likely killer being a man named Cabby Young, according to Ohman.
“Based on the research, especially the coroner’s report, I’m pretty sure Cabby Young did it,” he said during a recent interview.
Ohman, 62, said he believes his grandmother’s case might have been more aggressively pursued by authorities had she been an upstanding citizen from a finer neighborhood in Butte.
Did Theresa Evans, abandoned by husband Nick, work as a prostitute?
“We don’t know for sure,” Ohman said. “I think the likelihood was pretty high. But we would like to think she was just down and out.”
Ohman said his mother, Jeanne, clearly bore the emotional scars of losing her mother so suddenly and brutally in April 1940.
“My mother was only 13 at the time,” he said. “She had to grow up very quickly. She started working at a very young age. She was always very reserved. She didn’t express love outwardly.”
At the time of her mother’s murder, Jeanne was living with her grandmother, Mary Green, in Anaconda. Jeanne graduated in 1944 from St. Peter’s Catholic High School. A brief marriage yielded one child. Later, Jeanne married John W. Ohman, and the couple had 11 children, including the author.
He wrote, “I suspect having 11 children was at least partially the result of the inconsistent, unstable and often lonely life she experienced as a child.”
Ohman said trying to understand his mother’s rocky childhood was one motivation for researching and writing “Lady in Room Number Nine.”
He said he started researching the book in earnest about three years ago as he neared retirement. The 1977 graduate of Anaconda High School is a retired physical therapist. He completed the writing in November 2020.
Ohman’s research for “Lady in Room Number Nine” yielded colorful and detailed vignettes of Butte as a melting pot that lured great numbers of Irish. The book describes the Mining City’s hard-working and hard-drinking miners, its skells and scoundrels.
The book’s front cover features a vintage photo of an attractive woman gazing wistfully out a window. That woman is not Theresa Evans. She is pictured on the back cover, cradling a baby.
Ohman acknowledged it is likely his grandmother’s killer will never be identified. His empathy for this complex woman enriches the book.
“Lady in Room Number Nine” is available at Books & Books in Butte, at the Copper Village Museum and Art Center in Anaconda, and on Amazon.