A tragic snapshot of a life that was part of Ogden

Newspapers don’t publish stores about suicides any more, the thinking being that it is a private affair and the family has enough trouble. When I worked at the Standard-Examiner, starting in 1978, the policy was to ignore them unless they were public.

Even obituaries, which at that time were staff-written, did not mention them unless you knew the code: Obituaries for suicides said they died “of injuries,” and nothing more.

But it was not always so. As I was sorting out the old files of news clips from the Standard-Examiner now stored at Weber State University, I came across four full file folders, from 1933 to the late 60s, with dozens of stories of suicides.

It’s a tragic collection — people found hanged, shot, suffocated, sitting in cars, all the various ways. When a man named “W. I. Isherwood” decided to let a Southern Pacific cut his head off, the event got 5 inches of copy, complete with details.

So, tragedy aplenty in this collection, but one story went a bit farther, giving us a look into one of the characters of Ogden, those random folks who make a public contribution to the city being interesting, more human.

The story goes beyond mere details. Perhaps the reporter, feeling a big guilty about not doing a story the guy deserved when he was alive, felt it would be a nice tribute after he was gone, no matter what the circumstances.

John Thomas Vaughan was 54 in 1936. He was born in England, but lived in Ogden for 47 years. The story reporting his death, which ran Dec. 4, 1936, says he was one of the oldest taxi drivers in Ogden. He hung around Union Station, making his living during the summer by taking tourists for tours.

“Ride around the city, up Ogden Canyon and back to your train” was his pitch as he greeted tourists  who were wondering how to kill time between trains.

He like to tell stories of those tourists, like the ones who asked him to take them to the airport, then go on an airplane ride with them. “A keen judge of human nature, he was reported recently to have refused a ride to Luther Jones, now under death sentence in Nevada for murder.”

Lucky for him. Jones, according to a web site called “Murderpedia” was a bad sort: A resident of the Montana state prison, he was released, traveled to Utah in October of 1936,  forced a tax driver to take him to Montello, Nev., stole the cab,  held up three other men and ended up killing one. He was executed in January of 1937.

The S-E story says Vaughan’s normal custom was to work during the summer tourist season in Ogden, then take his cab for a vacation during the winter. The previous winter he had toured the southern states and Mexico.

But things got hard. The story doesn’t say what the specific problem was, but it says he was “despondent over ill health.” Police said he had crawled into bed, put a shotgun against his chest and pulled the trigger.

Charles Trentelman