The Lobauer-Estep Murder at Big Creek, Idaho

Two miners, Walter Estep and Frank Lobauer, on Ramey Ridge in Big Creek became enemies after a faulty deal and an affair. When they failed to resolve their problem after seeking help from officials, Lobauer took matters into his own hands and promptly reported his deeds.

Before the paths of Walter Estep and Frank Lobauer fatally crossed, they were neighbors who mined on Ramey Ridge in Big Creek. Previously a forest ranger, Estep, born in 1893, moved to Acorn Creek Ranch on Ramey Ridge in 1930. Born in 1884, Lobauer was a short man, not quite 5’4”, who was cross eyed and balding. Lobauer and his wife, Myrtle Bland Geer, moved to Big Creek in the 1920’s. This area along Big Creek was a popular site for mining with many homesteads used primarily for mining claims.

The two men became acquainted when Lobauer was contracted to work in one of Estep’s mines in exchange for an interest in the group. However, after finishing the work, Estep changed his mind about paying Lobauer. Meanwhile, Estep also had seduced Lobauer’s wife in what became a three-year affair with two children resulting. These intimate details of the feud were common knowledge among locals. In late 1935, Lobauer finally acted, traveling to the Warren Ranger Station to contact Ranger Gene Briggs. Despite an extensive telephone network in the area, without a phone Lobauer had to travel to contact authorities. Since he was absent at the time, Lobauer related the details to Briggs’s wife, Hiley, and demanded Estep to be placed under a peace bond to stay away from Myrtle. He added that if the sheriff failed to stop the affair, he would kill Estep. The isolation of the area did not provide Lobauer with many ways of taking immediate action. Hiley called the sheriff and relayed message; however, she omitted Lobauer’s threat.

On December 2, Estep acted as an attorney to help transfer the deed of the Dave Lewis property to Jess Taylor, a hunting ranch three miles downstream from Lobauer’s camp on Big Creek. According to Lobauer, as Estep was returning from the Lewis cabin, he saw Lobauer waiting with a gun and went to grab it. They agreed to talk things over and Lobauer asked Estep for the money he was owed. However, Estep refused to pay. Lobauer replied, “I’ll settle you with a bullet” and shot and killed Estep as he walked out the door. Lobauer visited Lewis and asked him to notify the sheriff. The sheriff sent a local to investigate as he couldn’t reach the remote area until the next day. Lobauer was found sitting inside his tent drunk. Estep’s body was still lying in the doorway with a bullet hole through the back of his neck and out of his mouth with blood spattered all over the snow.

Lobauer was arrested and sent to the Valley County Jail in Cascade where he admitted to the murder, but later pleaded not guilty in trial. In 1936, Lobauer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 5 to 10 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho. He spent eight years in prison until he was released in 1942. Six years later, Lobauer returned to Big Creek where he was last seen heading out to an old mining claim by foot in the snow.

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