A Pendleton man was beaten with an axe by his longtime roommate on their front porch after an argument in August 1930. He died minutes after police arrived.
On the night of August 10, 1930, James Jarnagan walked up to the Pendleton fire chief, W.E. Ringold, and confessed he had just killed his roommate, U.G. “Doc” Ruud. When Ringold brought Jarnagan to the Police Chief Charles Lemons, Jarnagan went on to relate, “He’s not dead yet, but he soon will be.”
Chief Lemons loaded Jarnagan into a police car and raced to the three-room home Jarnagan, 55, and Ruud, 63, had shared for many years just across the railroad tracks from the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds. They found Ruud sitting in a chair on the front porch, his feet perched on the porch rail, and his still-smoldering pipe beside him on the floor. He was unconscious but still breathing, though barely. An ambulance was called, but before it could arrive Ruud died of his injuries.
Jarnagan told his story the following morning at the police station in front of Chief Lemons and District Attorney C.C. Proebstel. He said he and Ruud were quarreling over cooking and alcohol, and that Ruud had struck him during a struggle. To defend himself, Jarnagan said, he grabbed a heavy axe and struck Ruud in the head several times with the blunt part of the axe head. He was not nervous during questioning and did not seem worried about the outcome of the case, but didn’t seem to remember many details of the incident.
Police were inclined to doubt Jarnagan’s story, however, considering Ruud’s body did not look like it had been involved in a struggle — rather, it looked as though Jarnagan had stolen up behind Ruud and launched a surprise attack while the older man was relaxing on the porch. Officers who guarded the crime scene overnight also discovered a hammer hidden in Jarnagan’s bed. And while Jarnagan claimed he had been drinking the night of the murder, no liquor was found in the house. The owner of the home, Jim Spencer, told authorities that Jarnagan had been told he would have to move out the day before the murder took place.
Jarnagan was charged with first-degree murder, and friends took up a collection to fund his defense. Dr. W.D. McNary, who had observed Jarnagan at the state hospital for a month following the murder, was asked about Jarnagan’s sanity during the trial. Dr. McNary said that while Jarnagan was indeed sane, his mental capacity left him unable to plot and carry out a deliberate murder.
A plea of guilty to second-degree murder was accepted by Judge Fee, and Jarnagan was sentenced to life in an institution.