Historical Details

Fire: Silver Cliff Hotel Arson

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald-Standard, 06/07/1923

BLAZE OF SUSPICIOUS ORIGIN THREATENS TO DESTROY SILVER CLIFF

The Lusk Herald-Standard, June 7, 1923

Fire Fighters Called Out in Early Friday Fire at Hotel on Hill

Discoveries Made Give Evidence of Incendiarism; Skinner Lad is Placed Under Arrest

Residents of Lusk were awakened early last Friday morning by the shrill whistling of the fire siren, and although there could be seen no reflections in the sky that indicated a blaze of any consequence, they were soon experiencing thoughts enough to make anyone shudder. The alarm was sent in from the Silver Cliff hotel, and although none knew how many persons were occupying rooms there at that time, many ere at the scene and ready to assist in getting the guests from the building to aid in any way possible in extinguishing the blaze.

The fire department answered the call in record time and soon had a stream playing on the flames. The fire originated in the furnace room—the northeast corner of the basement.  This blaze was soon put out and the firemen started to leave. But a second call was made to the departing firemen that flames were discovered in the southwest corner room of the second floor. The firemen directed the stream on the newly discovered blaze and it was extinguished in short order. Then came a surprise.

Several of the firefighters were of the opinion that something might be wrong, considering the locations of the two fires and the relation of one to the other.  Some said that the odor of kerosene was strong, and that started an investigation that revealed some astonishing discoveries.

In the room where the second fire had begun, a number of holes were found to have been bored in the floor and wall and it was soon the general supposition that kerosene had been poured therein. Looking into other adjoining rooms, the curious found same conditions existing.

One thing is apparent in face of the above—the blaze was of incendiary origin. And right then the law extended its hand and took into custody Lynn Skinner, son of Q.M. Skinner, proprietor of the hotel and the former’s younger brother. The latter was released soon after but Lynn is still under the lock and key of Sheriff Joss. He claims no knowledge of the fire’s origin and has said nothing that might place the blame at his feet.

At the time of the fire the proprietor and Mrs. Skinner were out of town. They were visiting in Gordon, Nebr., and Mr. Skinner was notified as to what had occurred and he returned here as soon as possible. The building was covered by insurance in the amount of $33,000, and if, as the boy says, he had nothing to do with the conflagration, it appears that some uninterested party attempted the destruction of the building. The question in that case is: “What was the motive?”

The case is being thoroughly investigated by the authorities and in the event the evidence upon the perpetrator can be ascertained, vigorous prosecution will result.

Adjusters for various fire insurance companies were here shortly after the fire and upon investigation of the source of the blaze, cancelled all policies.

LYNN Q. SKINNER ADMITS ATTEMPT TO DESTROY HOTEL

The Lusk Herald-Standard, June 14, 1923

Takes Entire Blame of Fire Upon Himself; Loss is Not Heavy

Had Planned Destruction of Silver Cliff Hotel in Order to Get Insurance Money

Lynn Q. Skinner, who has been held at the county jail for the past two weeks, charged with connection of the fire which was intended to destroy to Silver Cliff hotel here, brought an end to the anxiety of county officials, when at 3:35 o’clock Monday morning he confessed to having committed the crime.

The fire occurred early Friday morning, June 1st, and was extinguished before any great damage had been done to the building. At that time many who were at the scene of the blaze were of the opinion that the odor of kerosene was present. This started the investigation of the premises that led to young Skinner’s arrest. His younger brother, Byron, was also taken into custody but liberated shortly after.

In his confession, which was witnessed by County Attorney Frank A. Barrett, Sheriff Chris Joss, Dr. M.L. Morris, Geo. H. Ginther and H.J Evans, the lad placed the entire blame upon himself, swearing that no one else was a party to the crime or knew of his intentions.

According to the boy’s confession, he had come to Lusk early in March and found his father in financial straits, poor business at the hotel and other business losses as the cause. He said he had noted the effect of these difficulties upon his father’s health, and it was after he returned to the ranch at Gordon that he formulated the plans that were to destroy the building and obtain the amount of insurance carried on the hotel. The amount as the lad states was about $33,000.

It was while at the ranch at Gordon that young Skinner wrote to his father, Q.M. Skinner, asking that he come there for a visit the latter part of May so that he could decorate the grave of his mother and also visit with friends who had been asking about him. His father agreed to make the trip and the boy was to come here and take charge of the hotel.  Mr. and Mrs. Skinner and the two youngest children left here on Tuesday, May 29 for Gordon.

The boy used every precaution on the night of the fire in seeing that no guests were placed on the south side of the building. This section was where he intended to work out the starting of the fire. He had found the brace and bit with which the holes were drilled, in the basement the day before the blaze occurred and proceeded to bore holes in the rooms on both floors on the south side of the hotel.

When finished, he went to the Lusk Motor company and purchased five gallons of gasoline from Glen Willson; then to the Barnes Hardware store where he secured the funnel used in pouring the inflammable liquid into the holes. Young Skinner said he had bored holes in twenty different rooms, and the number in total, was about 95.

The lad further states in the confession that he had retired about 10:40 o’clock on the night of the fire and intended to get up at 1:30 to put the finishing touches to the job. He said that it was after 2 o’clock when he awoke and finding all quiet, took the gasoline from the basement and poured it into the holes he had bored into the holes he had bored the preceding afternoon. This accomplished, he returned to the basement and placed a broken sign board on top of the furnace and poured the remainder of the gasoline and some kerosene thereon. He then set it afire.

Following this he went upstairs and in room 32 applied the light to several of the holes there. As he was coming from that room, he heard a woman scream and knew that the fire had been discovered. He was unable to set fire to any of the other rooms.

Upon hearing the woman’s scream Skinner ran to the main floor, and was accosted by one of the guests, Jno. Mathias, who exclaimed “There’s a fire” and told the lad to turn in the alarm. Instead of doing this, the boy went to the basement but could not enter the furnace room on account of the heavy smoke. He ran out of the building and around to the furnace room windows to see how the fire was progressing, and at that time the department arrived and soon had the flames under control.

As soon as the basement fire was extinguished, Skinner advised the guests that they could return to bed and it was then that he made a pretense of discovering flames on the second floor. He called for Mathias, who in turn called back the firemen.

When the stream of water was directed in the “second” fire, persons expressed opinions as to the origin and when Lynn arrived among the crowd, he found them questioning his brother, Byron. He made his way to the youngster and said: “You don’t have to tell them a ---- thing.” This statement, in face of the appearance of matters, was taken into custody by Deputy Sheriff Otis Hughes and lodged in the county jail.

At the hearing Saturday morning in justice of the peace court, young Skinner plead “not guilty,” and bound over to the district court under bond of $10,000. However, by his confession, he has signified his desire to withdraw the former plea and enter a plea of “guilty” and throw himself on the mercy of the court.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Business Hotel: Silver Cliff View Record